The Broken Cradle

He was almost there, just a few minutes’ ride from the oddly-shaped structure that looked ever so inviting from where he was. The horse had slowed down some time ago, its trot nothing more than trudging accompanied by weary nodding. Its hooves, all metal-clad save for the bare one in the back, were muffled by lush grass as they crossed through. The sky was bright as it ever could be, a bit of a contrast from the much darker condition of the young man.

It took nearly all of Euram’s strength to lift his eyes to the castle that seemed to shine on the glittery lake. Despite the heat beating down upon both him and his horse, he pulled at the long cloak he was wearing and wrapped it more tightly around himself, shivering. He felt so cold as red occasionally seeped from a wound that refused to close. His battered, bloodied body ached, the pain so intense, that at times, he thought he would faint during the ride.

 Somehow, he held it together. He’d set a goal back on that boat, and he intended to meet it. He couldn’t remember how long he had been traveling; going by boat took days with most destinations in mind, but that was on the river. At present, he was on horseback, which was worse in terms of time, and not every river crossing came with a bridge, so he had been forced to take boats as well.

 The wound he’d received in the beginning hadn’t been as bad--that is, if one considered a pierced leg a mild injury. But when Euram finally escaped the Sun Palace, he hadn’t realized there was more to follow. Of course, he couldn’t blame Gizel for it entirely...or perhaps he could. Gizel’s schemes didn’t always have a clear objective, but they were often known to cause trouble, and that was enough to deal with. Euram made the mistake of stopping in Yashuna Village, believing he was home free. He didn’t want to go back to Rainwall, not because he thought it unsafe, but because there was something he needed to do. That task made his destination a bit further the castle on Ceras Lake.

 It was morning when he reached Rainwall, but Euram wanted a day or two in order to gather his thoughts before taking off for the castle. There were many things that needed to be said, and to many people. Initially, shame would have prevented him from considering any sort of apology, but after all that he had seen in the past few days, and even in the past decade, he could no longer afford to be held back by such things. There were greater threats besides a sullied name. Besides, he and his father had mostly been responsible for the latter. In fact, they were indirectly responsible for the former as well, now that he thought about it.

 “Argh...” He winced for the millionth time; it felt as though he were being attacked all over again. Multiple injuries began to throb all at once, reminding him once more that he was in desperate need of medical assistance. He might have sought it back at Yashuna had he not been so busy trying to escape the immediate danger.

 That didn’t matter to him now, anyway. From the moment he left the Sun Palace, he had resolved to do one thing. He wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him if his wounds went untreated. The only thing he was afraid of was dying before taking care of this matter.

 His vision blurred again, but he looked for an entrance as best he could. He was still nearly a mile away, but it was the first time he had ever been there.

 It was probably too much to hope that anyone would be as relieved to see him as he was to see the castle...


 “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you. Now that an imbecile like you is in charge of the Barows faction, I’m sure it’ll fall to ruin anyway!”

 It wasn’t his finest moment. Granted, he hadn’t had many of those in recent years, anyway. Particularly his role in the Lordlake uprising, which was something he had never been able to forget...nor would he ever. During the revolt, his family had stolen the Dawn Rune, a symbol of the Falenan royal family. For about two years, the Barows family kept this a secret...but as with any family with unusually large skeletons in their closet, there was more to the story.

 Lady Sialeeds and the Prince, as well as all their companions, had understandably been upset when hearing the news. Euram’s younger and only living sister, Luserina, had been so disgusted with her family’s actions that she had left with the Prince in order to atone for them. Everyone else, including allies of the Barows, had also joined the Prince.

 In time, the crimes of the Barows family--both intentional and unintentional--were eventually swallowed up by the war, and by the measures taken to save and restore the scorched Lordlake. Euram’s father, Salum, had fallen far from grace, and taken his son with him. Driven by bitterness and jealousy, Euram blindly hatched schemes to get at the Prince, all of which backfired in embarrassing and, at times, almost lethal ways. But those, too, became forgotten over the course of war.

 But there was one woman who remembered--Lady Sialeeds. Angry over the countless misdeeds the Barows faction had performed against her family--the royal family--she returned once more to Rainwall to deliver some news, and ensure that Salum repaid the debt...with his life.

 Euram was shaken at seeing his father murdered right before his eyes, but there wasn’t much he could do aside from clutching his father’s body and whimpering...just whimpering, sobbing, like a scared child. Looking back, Euram thought this the perfection description--a child. A stupid, scared child. Sadly, the description wasn’t limited to that one moment; he had been like that for many years, and it had started around the time his elder brother was assassinated by the Nether Gate. It was hard coming to terms with this new understanding, but Euram certainly couldn’t deny it. He was all alone now, and he didn’t have the veil of his father’s corruption to shield him from reality. He was...

 “ imbecile...”

 Lady Sialeeds’ words still stung, and they made him angry. But it wasn’t necessarily at Lady Sialeeds he directed this anger. No, he directed it toward...

 Toward the one who made it possible for Lady Sialeeds to have done such a thing. Toward the man who freely gave her the power of the Twilight Rune, and probably smiled in that stupid way when she told him what she had done with it.

 Euram gritted his teeth. Gizel...

 The Godwins had always had a strong presence in Falena, the only family to truly rival the Barows. For years, the Falenan royal family had gotten caught up in the power struggle, and neither side had been innocent. But none of that was on Euram’s mind. All he knew was that the current chain of events had been started by Gizel, who was carrying out his father’s wishes through all his scheming. Gizel, the one who plotted to ruin Euram’s chances at winning the Princess’ hand in marriage, the one who attacked Sol-Falena and caused Lady Sialeeds and the Prince to flee, and eventually bestowed upon that woman the Twilight Rune...the tool that took Euram’s father’s life.

 Gizel...his rival. The cold yet handsome noble, the one superior to Euram in every way.

 ...and soon, the one Euram would kill with his own hands.

 It had taken days, but he had made it nearly to the Sun Palace. For much of the journey, he had traveled by boat, but he stopped south of Sol-Falena and completed the rest on foot. He had dressed himself in a long, brown hooded cloak, concealing his normally gaudy attire and most of his face. At his waist was a sword of which he planned to make proper use, though truthfully, combat skills were yet another thing Gizel had over him. Euram didn’t care. It didn’t take skill to stick a sword through someone’s heart. Or maybe it did. Euram didn’t really know. He hadn’t practiced with a weapon long enough to actually kill anyone. For the most part, he gave commands to soldiers, and the sword acted more as a prop than anything else. Despite his ruse at Sable, he couldn’t seriously bring himself to clash weapons with another person, because he was... imbecile, a worthless fop...

 ...a spineless wretch...

 He grew misty-eyed, the words cutting as deep as they could. “Heh...” He blinked back the tears, swallowing the saliva that had soured in his mouth. So be it. Let Gizel get taken down by a spineless wretch. Euram had no intention of letting anyone get in the way of his goal. That was the only thing driving him now; nothing else mattered. He had lost all that he had known, his father, his siblings, his power, and even what was left of his dignity. All that was left was revenge, and he was going to take it.


 Security was suspiciously lax, but Euram had more important things on the mind than the possibility that he could be walking into any sort of trap. He had to destroy Gizel.

 Due to the cloak he wore, no one recognized him, but more importantly, no one bothered to ask who he was, despite him technically being a stranger to the city. In fact, no one bothered him, period...not even when he clumsily snuck his way around the city and eventually came upon the palace. He unintentionally stumbled on more than one of the different flights of stairs he had to take. The sword would have fallen as well had it not been attached to his waist.

 But if Euram thought about it, perhaps his clumsy behavior was one of the reasons none of the guards had thought to detain the unidentified stranger with the sword. Only people who were deemed real threats were thrown into prison. How did a stumbling, whimpering swordsman look to the average passerby?

 Clumsy, Euram thought, emotionless. A gaudily dressed noble, he had been something of a joke among the people. Of course, this was mostly due to the mannerisms and schemes he had adopted from his father, and not so much due to his clothing. The Barows faction was a shady group, or so he had heard the Sol-Falenan residents whispering in town. Listening to that, for the first time, he was truly ashamed of his family...and of what he had done to contribute to that shame.

 My role...I should have thought for myself, rather than try to fill a void left behind by Hiram...

 Deep down, he knew he would never replace the big brother he’d lost years ago, but for some strange reason, he’d felt an obligation to try. Perhaps it was the desire to prove his leadership...but no, as incompetent as he presented himself, it had to be something else. He’d felt it since the day his elder brother was assassinated, when their mother locked herself away. Euram rarely saw the woman after that, despite the fact they lived in the same house. It made him sad, but he hid this feeling along with a desire to reacquaint her with the world. But instead of expressing this desire honestly, Euram showed weakness for his mother’s sake, and allowed Salum to mold him as he wished.

 Learning the man’s skills was not altogether a bad thing; after all, Luserina had done the same. But while Luserina kept a strong head on her shoulders, Euram let Salum’s influence extend to his morals...or lack thereof. While Euram loved his father, he never felt quite right about the things he did for the man. But even when he realized how much of a hole he’d been digging himself into, he couldn’t find the courage to stop. Something seemed to always be there, pushing him to continue these occasionally wicked deeds while masking them with a phony smile and exaggerated courtesy. It would be strange to say he had inherited such less-than-honorable qualities from his father, but it would not be entirely untrue. Euram had spent so much time in the presence of his father, following in his footsteps, that much of Salum’s behavior had rubbed off on him.

 But there was that certain unsettling feeling that followed Euram around constantly. Salum loved his children as any father would, and perhaps nothing truly horrible would have happened if Euram had resisted, but there would likely be a coldness and distance that could only be fixed by unconditional obedience. Sometimes the thought alone was unbearable, a testament to how weak he had truly grown. In trying to prevent such disappointed reactions, Euram had made a mess of his own life.

 And in the end, Father was lost to me anyway...

 He was done shedding tears over the man’s death, however. It was time to deal death back. It didn’t matter whether or not Salum had deserved his fate; Gizel was responsible for supplying the murder weapon--the Twilight Rune--and now he had to pay.

 Though no one had bothered him up until the palace of Sol-Falena, Euram didn’t want to take any chances prematurely exposing his plot. After all, murder or attempted murder of a member of the royal family was a heavily punishable crime. And he imagined that nothing would give Gizel greater pleasure than to see an injured pup take a few more beatings.

 Or perhaps not. No one ever really knew what went on in that head of Gizel’s, and Euram didn’t care. I’ll be taking his head soon enough anyway.

 The guards at the palace occasionally left their posts, only to be replaced by new guards moments later. Again, Euram might have found such convenient timing suspicious had he been focused on anything rational. All he saw was an opportunity to sneak in for the kill. And when he found one, he quietly stepped inside, looking around for any armed men. There had been even fewer than he would have guessed, so it was easy to slip by when any of them weren’t looking.

 The entrance to the throne room was completely unguarded, and one of the doors was slightly ajar. At last, Euram carefully snuck in, his eyes glued to the guard who, despite being in his sights, never turned around. Closing the door slowly, he drew in a breath at similar speed, releasing it when the door could no longer go beyond its point.

 “Finally,” he whispered. “It’s only a matter of time now...”

 “What are you doing? What business do you have here in the palace? Identify yourself!”

 Euram gasped at first, quickly turning toward the owner of the voice. He sighed in relief at the familiar face of the preteen girl. “Oh...Your Majesty. I thought you were--”

 Queen Lymsleia was equally surprised. “You?” she exclaimed. “Why are you here?” Her eyes finally landed on the sword resting at Euram’s hip. “And what is that for? Surely this isn’t just a casual visit. Do you intend to make use of that right here?”

 “Y-Your Majesty, no!” Euram stammered, holding up his hands. “Y-you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not here to see you. I’m here to--” He stopped, realizing the danger of divulging such details so potentially close to the enemy. “I-it doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t be here when he comes back.”

 “Who? You mean...”

 “That’s right. That underhanded, murdering scum. I’m going to cut Gizel’s heart out, the way he cut out mine when he took away my dear father’s life two days ago.”

 Though Lymsleia had been no fan of the Barows family herself, she was appalled by this news. “What? Gizel killed...?” She shook her head. “You must be mistaken. He’s been here all week. He couldn’t have killed your father.”

 Euram chuckled then, an unsettling, prolonged chuckle that told the Queen he was no longer the young man she once knew, and not for the better. “My Queen, I am well aware of the Commander’s whereabouts these past few days.” A furious expression then replaced the partly amused one. “I know it was not he who killed my father directly. It was Lady Sialeeds. But still...he is the one who gave her the order to come to Rainwall, and the one who bestowed upon her the rune his family stole two years ago.”

 “You should talk about stealing runes,” the girl shot back, though it was just a bitter, reflexive reply. Her concern quickly returned. “But what do you mean, my aunt killed your father? I thought she was just there to take the troops out of there.”

 “Apparently, she had other ideas.”

 “Then why don’t you blame her, instead? She hasn’t exactly been innocent herself.”

 The rage was boiling inside of Euram, but on the surface, he appeared emotionless. “She is not at fault.”

 Lymsleia was baffled by his response. “Not at fault...?” she repeated. She walked up to him, searching his face as if to catch him in a lie. “She is the one who killed him, isn’t she? How can you not blame her for killing your father--

 “Because he deserved it!” the young man exploded, causing the girl to gasp. Seeing her frightened expression, he quickly backed down. “I...I doesn’t matter...why...but...after everything he’s done...after everything my family and I have done...” He shook his head, forcing composure. “It doesn’t matter. Gizel shouldn’t have been the one to give her the rune. It wasn’t his right, it”


 “Nothing,” the young man said, mumbling now. “I said it doesn’t matter. He’s going to pay. I’m...” He crossed his right arm over, gripping the handle of the sword. Clumsily, he tugged a couple of times to no avail. “...if I could just...argh...!” With a grunt, he pulled the sword free with a loud scraping noise.

 “...And what, may I ask, do you plan to do with that sword?”

 The two turned to the very smug-looking Commander of the Queen’s Knights, who was standing by the open door Euram had entered through only moments ago.

 Euram’s teeth gnashed together. “Gizel.” His grip on the hilt tightened. “It’s time to finish this.”

 “I’m afraid it isn’t. We must prepare for your upcoming trial.”

 My trial? You’re the one who should be on trial!”

 Gizel chuckled softly, taking several steps toward them. “My dear Euram, I am not the one who has plotted to assassinate my lovely wife.”

 Euram glared at him in disbelief. “What?!”

 Lymsleia quickly turned her head toward the angry young man, and then back at Gizel. “Gizel, no! What are you thinking?! You know he wouldn’t lay a finger on me!”

 “Wouldn’t lay a finger on you?” repeated Gizel. “The two of you are alone in this room, and he is standing before you with a fully drawn weapon. What other intentions could he have?” Before either Lymsleia or Euram could think up a reply, Gizel called out, “Guards!”

 A group of Godwin men in uniform shuffled into the room at the Commander’s call. They came from both the main exit as well as from the Queen’s private chambers, quickly surrounding Euram and Lymsleia.

 Lymsleia stepped in front of Euram. “Stop it!”

 “Get away from there, Your Majesty,” Gizel commanded her, holding an arm out to her as though he were assisting in her rescue. “This man has attempted to murder you. You have no reason to show him mercy.”

 “You idiot! What can someone like him do?”

 “He is still a threat. This is for your own good.”


 “Stand aside, Your Majesty,” Euram suddenly said with an eerie calmness. “There is no reason to fight this. In his eyes, I am guilty.”

 “At last, one of you grasps the seriousness of the situation. Guards, take him away.” With that, Gizel turned and started to walk out of the room.

 It was a small window of time, but Euram saw his chance. Before the guards could grab him and confiscate the weapon, Euram was charging after Gizel, sword pointed at the man’s back. “I’ll kill you...!” he screamed, but was immediately stopped by a piercing pain in the back of his thigh. “Agh--” He stopped in place, the pain carrying more weight than the weapon in his hands. “Ugh...” He began to descend, dropping the weapon as he landed on all fours.

 Lymsleia saw it first, even before she realized what he had just tried to do. The bolt sticking out of the back of the young man’s leg and, the blood seeping through his clothing even through the extra layer of his cloak. She then followed the assumed path of the projectile... all the way to the guard reloading his crossbow. “No, stop!” she screamed.

 The guard obeyed, though reluctantly. “Your Majesty, this man just tried to kill the Commander!” he protested. “Don’t tell me you believe he was just trying to engage him in a friendly duel just now!”

 “I know...what he was trying to do,” Lymsleia said, only growing more upset. “But...but he...he deserves to...” She stopped, realizing how twisted the thought would have sounded in completion.

 Gizel turned around. “Deserves to what?” he asked casually, as though no attempt on his life had been made. “Deserves to kill me, perhaps? And for what reason? It’s a little late for him to be showing bitterness over losing the Sacred Games to me, don’t you think?”

 “Gah...!” came the sudden scream.

 Everyone turned to look at the young man on the floor, who had a blood-stained bolt in his grasp, freshly yanked from his wound.

 Gizel only seemed to express boredom. “Is that all you have to say?” he asked, almost strutting as he came closer to Euram. “Have you had enough? Or do you really intend to settle our differences in a friendly duel?”

 “Would you shut up?” Euram snapped, slamming the bloody projectile into the ground. He lifted his head, glaring at Gizel with intense hatred. “You know very well the reason I am here.”

 “Oh, I do? Then do me the honor of refreshing my memory. It seems I may have lost the reason somewhere in the bustle of war.”

 “You’re the reason my father is dead!” Euram shouted, somehow finding the strength to stand back up. “And don’t you dare try to deny it! I know you sent Lady Sialeeds to Rainwall in order to destroy him! My dear father...! She murdered him!”

 Gizel, however, did not show the slightest hint of surprise...or remorse. “Did she now? I’m afraid that was not in her original orders. This is something she did on her own, I assure you, and not because I told her to.”

 “Grrr...!” Euram tried to run toward Gizel, but three of the guards had intercepted him and were holding him back. “You knew damn well what she would do once she was there, bearing the Twilight Rune! You knew how she felt about my father!”

 Gizel rolled his eyes, obviously less concerned with how inappropriate the action was, and more concerned with how Euram’s words were boring him. “Oh, and is that really my fault? I’m afraid your father--however dear he may be--earned the lady’s hatred all on his own. I can’t help it if she decided that was a good time to express that hatred. Then again, when the opportunity is ripe...wait, what is it that Father is always trying to tell me? Well, it doesn’t matter. What’s done is done.”

 Euram thrashed against the arms that bound him back. “Damn you, Gizel!”

 A smile curled its way onto the man’s face. “Forget the trial. Just throw him down in the dungeon and leave him there.”


 All eyes turned to Lymsleia, who had run up to the guards surrounding Euram.

 “What is it, Your Majesty?” Gizel asked, though his tone was growing slightly sharp around the edges. “Don’t worry. He won’t receive treatment different from that of the other prisoners. I’ll even get a doctor to treat that...heh...nasty injury.”

 “You’ve already gotten all that you wanted from this,” Lymsleia told him sternly. “Look at him. He’s broken. He has nothing else in the world, so it’s not like you’re going to gain anything else from his misery. As Queen, I say we let him go, after the doctors look at him...if he promises to leave and never come back.”

 “Let him go?” For a moment, it seemed as though the Commander would grow angry at this, but he simply chuckled. “Hmm...”

 Euram hated it when Gizel had that expression on his face. It meant he was thinking, and that usually resulted in nothing good.

 “...of course,” Gizel finished with a smile, much to everyone’s shock. “I applaud your wisdom, my Queen. But if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion...cast him out by the city gate without a weapon. I prefer not to have another episode such as the one that happened here today.”

 With a relieved sigh, Lymsleia turned to Euram, who had a mix of relief...and his expression. “After you visit the infirmary, please leave this place, for everyone’s sake. There’s nothing here for you now, and...trying to kill anyone isn’t going to bring back the ones we have loved and lost.” She brought her head down. “It just...won’t.”

 Watching her, Euram understood the futility of his revenge for two reasons. One, the reason the girl had given, and two, he was starting to realize that his energy could have been put to better use. He couldn’t think of anything at the moment, but he somehow felt that there was something waiting for him beyond the gates. He just had to figure out what it was.

 He said nothing in reply, but he nodded once. When the guards released him, he obediently followed their march as though he were following a faint light in a fog. His wound throbbed, but he hardly felt it. He passed Gizel, barely even glancing at him. Euram was done. He could no longer devote his energy to such bitter feelings.

 On the one hand, it caused him to feel defeated. On the other, it was also liberating, as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Perhaps Gizel had “won” the battle, so to speak, but Euram was starting to realize that Gizel would only collect even more victories if Euram continued reacting every time Gizel played out one of his stupid schemes.


 The trip to the doctor was not as long as anticipated, and when the guards left him at the gate, they provided him a horse and sent him on his way. Euram didn’t know where to go, however. Perhaps he could go home for a while and reflect on what he needed to do. He would also need to redress his wound once he returned.

 It didn’t take long before Euram realized why the guards had been so generous. It hurt a lot to ride, despite the cushion of his bandages. He wouldn’t blame them for their false courtesy, however. He was sick of blaming people...and getting nowhere. Besides, being guilty of such false courtesy in the past, he was not the best person to judge. It was time to change these habits.

 Eventually, Euram had to stop riding; the pressure on his wound was just too much. He decided to lead the horse all the way to the boat. Perhaps the answer he sought would come to him on the waters...or so he hoped.

 Surprisingly, the boat he’d left south of the drawbridge had been untouched, with no one lurking onboard. Ever since the bridge had been rendered inoperable, it seemed there were fewer Godwin soldiers in the area. But despite the tide of war having been turned in the Prince’s favor, Euram still found this a bit odd. If Gizel intended to win the war, why be so careless with Sol-Falena’s entry points?

 Euram had been sailing for hours before the answer came to him. Gizel didn’t have intentions to win the least, not strong intentions. This wasn’t to say he intended to lose, however. Gizel was just that type of person--someone who wanted to mix up as many people as he could in his little game, and for as long as they stayed there, he was the victor. To his credit, Gizel was smart enough to understand that there were repercussions to his actions, but he either lacked the drive or the wits to control these repercussions and maximize their usefulness. Simply put, he liked to make a splash and watch someone else clean up the mess.

 Sialeeds coming to Rainwall was one such splash. Of course, Euram didn’t really know whether it was Gizel or Sialeeds herself behind the decision to go, but Gizel must have anticipated an unfortunate outcome. And to ensure he could see just how big the waves of this splash had been, he made it so that Euram could easily slip into the palace without being questioned. It didn’t even make Euram sick anymore, just sad. Sad that he had spent so much time fixated with revenge on someone who, in the end, just wasn’t worth it.

 It didn’t matter anymore, though. It was time to clean up the mess, and Euram still hadn’t figured out how. His father was dead, along with his two older siblings that had died many years before, and his mother was forever confined to her room by her own choice. Euram was now the head of the Barows household, but he didn’t feel like being that. It wasn’t that he wasn’t comfortable in positions of authority, though some of his past experiences would not exactly have encouraged him to be, but it seemed wrong to take charge of the whole town at this point. The citizens hated him and cursed his father in his grave, they had lost all their alliances, and he hadn’t seen his younger sister, Luserina, in well over a year.


 Euram’s eyes widened. That was it! Rather, she was it--the one that was waiting for him beyond the gates of Sol-Falena. He needed to see her, and to apologize for all the grief he had caused her by being a disgrace to their family name.

 She...looked so disappointed the last time I saw her. Euram thought back to the moment Luserina had made the decision to turn her back on her family and serve the Falena Prince, Freyjadour, who only inspired others everywhere he went. Euram had felt an odd sort of jealousy toward the Prince in that way, because while Euram showered others with gifts and compliments and only received uncomfortable reactions in return, it seemed the Prince would only have to smile and gain an ally for life. But Euram realized this way of thinking had been wrong. He finally understood what it meant to be unable to buy affection with gifts. Freyjadour had never expected anything in return for anything he did, and he never forced a favor on anyone else for selfish gain.

 It’s no wonder Luserina and everyone else left us. My father and I...we...

 The sad memories were getting to Euram, but he blinked back the tears. He wasn’t going to cry about what could have been; that was the old Euram. The new Euram would be brave...or braver, at least. He would own up to his mistakes and do what he could to atone for his crimes. And then, perhaps, when he proved he was worthy of running a household and town, just maybe, he would return to Rainwall with a cleaner reputation, purer intentions, and a stronger will.

 The first thing he had to do was find Luserina, which was easy. He’d known all along where she was--in the castle at Ceras Lake, aiding the Prince in any way she could.

 Prince Freyjadour...

 He was another person Euram needed to apologize to, even more than Luserina. After all, attempting to endanger the Prince with a cursed book, dirtying his name with the thieving acts of a hired impostor, and trying to get a group of respected knights to destroy him were not exactly offenses that were easily forgivable.

 I’ll apologize to Luserina and the Prince...I shall throw myself at their mercy if I have to! Justice shall come to be! For the, for the restoration of the honor of my sweet, caring sister and the most valiant and gentle of princes--

 Er... He shook his head.

 The new Euram would also have to get used to breaking such melodramatic habits.


 After a day, Euram’s boat had docked at the resort town of Yashuna, though from the moment he’d stepped onto the land, he’d had a most unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was no wonder. This was the place where he had endangered both himself and the Prince by attempting to place a cursed book into his possession. Euram had dressed up as a false fortuneteller and given Prince Freyjadour news of a most dismal future, and then presented him with the book for good luck. It backfired, however; the Prince had returned the book and Euram, out of curiosity--and sheer idiocy--had taken one innocent peek at its pages. Unfortunately, one glance was all it took to place Euram under its deadly spell, draining the life from him until he was unexpectedly saved by the one he had been trying to hurt.

 At the time, Euram had felt resentment and embarrassment at knowing who’d saved him, but now, he was deeply embarrassed for different reasons. He was truly ashamed at how he had treated the person who had done nothing but save his life, especially since it was the same person he had been trying to curse.

 I want to tell him...I’m so sorry for everything...but...

 Euram looked down. Though he was still wearing the hooded cloak, he could see a small part of his frilly clothing sticking out at the neck. He scowled. What was I thinking, wearing this? No wonder no one ever takes me seriously. They say the Prince started with a change of clothes, so I should try to find a tailor...

 He turned to the horse he had brought along on the boat, leading slowly it into the village. He didn’t notice the severely receded waters in the springs, nor did he notice a handful of people eyeing him strangely. He was only focused on finding one thing.

 ...and soon he had done just that.

 The clothes he saw in the window of the shop weren’t at all like the fancy garments he was used to, but he considered this a good thing. After such a complicated year, perhaps something plain and simple would suit him...

 A prematurely balding man with a walking cane warmly greeted Euram when he stepped into the shop. “Hello, good sir. May I interest you in an outfit that you can relax in by the water? Or perhaps I could tailor you something to--” The man grew startled as Euram dropped his hood. “I-it’s you! I thought you--I thought you would...why are you here?”

 “Uh...” Euram truly felt out of place then, like a newcomer to society. Nevermind the fact the man recognized him; Euram just wasn’t used to engaging in normal conversation without sweeping hand gestures and badly spoken prose. “I...would like...uh...if you could help me, that is...I’d like to find something that...well...that doesn’t look like this...!” He opened up the cloak with an anguished expression, which was met with sympathy.

 “I hear ya,” said the man, nodding. “To be honest, I don’t know why you nobles wear that stuff in the first place. It looks so uncomfortable. Anyway, what were you looking for?”

 “Something...different,” Euram said wearily. “Something plain. Something like...” He turned and pointed at a table, where a man’s outfit was laid out. Consisting of a dark grey, long-sleeved shirt and matching long pants, it was plain and without significant design, save the thin, elegant white trim and buttons at the shirt collar and cuffs. “ that.”

 “Ah, yes. That is for sale.” The man walked over to the table, picking up the items before returning to the noble. “Would you like to try it on, see how it might look?”

 “Yes, of--” Euram stopped, remembering his wound. “Well, perhaps just the top.”

 “All right. Follow me.” He led Euram to a more secluded area of the store, where a dressing curtain was set up. “I’ll be back to check on you,” he said, handing the garment to him before he left.

 Euram threw off the cloak and started to remove the blue cape beneath it, but then he stopped. There was that feeling again, but it was slightly different from the one he’d felt when he’d first docked. This time, he felt a bit alarmed over something, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He instinctively whirled around as though to make certain he was not being watched, but realized it was pointless; the curtain shielded him from the rest of the store.

 Convinced it was just his nerves, he continued undressing down to the waist. After half his gaudy garb had been tossed to the floor, he put on the shirt and turned to the antique mirror closing off the other side of the curtain. If Euram had still been stuck in his old ways, he might have thought it didn’t look half bad, or at least wouldn’t with some ridiculously flashy vest. But right now, he couldn’t have cared less about fashion. He just wanted to be presentable, with no trace of the shady young man he used to be.

 “So how does it look?” the man’s voice called out.

 Euram stepped out from behind the curtain.

 “Ah...not bad, not bad. Oh, but it seems quite loose in the middle. You’re plenty scrawny for a senator’s son. But that’s okay, because I can modify this to your size. Just let me measure you, okay?”

 The young man stepped back with his arms stretched out at his sides. “Do is not my intention to rush you, but how long will it take you to finish altering it?”

 “Hmmm...” The tailor set aside his cane and extended some tape, making notes whenever he aligned it to Euram’s body. “Shouldn’t take more than a few days, with the other people’s orders.” When he finished, he took his cane again. “By the way, I need you to come over here and stand on a stool for me.”

 “Of course.” Euram followed the older man to a more open space containing a footstool. He obediently stepped up, wincing a little as his leg reminded him of its injury.

 The tailor noticed Euram’s reaction, and then grimaced at the sight of the thick bandage circling the young man’s leg. “Oh. Looks like a nasty wound you have there. Maybe the loose pant style would suit you for the moment.” He continued rambling as he resumed measuring. “You will be getting them too, correct? With all due respect, what you have on doesn’t exactly go with the top...” He bent down slightly for the last measurement. “Arrgh...”

 Euram reciprocated the concern, and it was genuine. “Are you all right?”

 The tailor squinted a little, but he managed a half-hearted chuckle. “Yeah. Bad knees, you know. But I’m used to it.” He finally got up with a grunt, taking a step back. “All right, then! If I could just have that back, I’ll get started right away. I’ll just be in the back room.”

 “All right.” Euram stepped back behind the curtain to remove the garment. When he was finished, he poked his head back out and handed the shirt back to the older man.

 “Thanks.” The tailor took it and started to leave, but stopped. “By the way, young man, if you don’t mind me asking...whatever made you decide to come here, of all places?”

 “Huh? Oh...” Euram’s eyes widened for a moment, but something resembling pain soon appeared in them. “No...real reason...uh...I just...thought it was time to make some changes in my life, is all. I realize there are some things I can probably never erase, but at least I can hope to...uh...that is...I mean...” With a timid look, he blushed, disappearing behind the curtain once more.

 Like a scared child. A fortnight from turning twenty, and it was all he could be.

 “...N-nevermind,” he finished.

 The tailor nodded. “I see. Sorry if I offended you, young man. My wife tells me I’m too damn nosy sometimes, and even I agree once in a while.”

 “Oh...n-no, it’s not’s’s a long, long story...and I just realized I have much to do.”

 “Well, in that case, I’d better hurry. I’m sure you’d rather sort your thoughts than listen to a rambling old man. Three days will be enough, won’t it? You can return then.”

 “Thank you,” Euram said, but he did not reemerge. “By the way, how much will it be?”

 “’s on the house.”

 “What? But I have more than enough to--”

 “My condolences,” the tailor interrupted before retreating.

 Euram stood there as the words sank in. So...the news has already spread here. Oddly, he didn’t feel any sort of anger, or any desire to take it out on anyone. All he felt was a passing sadness. Perhaps...that’s the way I should feel. For all Father did...

 He turned around and picked up some of his old clothes when his reflection caught his eye. Euram seemed shocked at his appearance, even though he was no stranger to it. He dropped his clothes and came closer to the mirror, noticing his thin frame had somehow grown thinner over the past several weeks. Even his long blond hair, which once saw a daily regimen, seemed disheveled and as undernourished as the rest of him. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Tension was at an all-time high; Godwin soldiers were coming in and out of Rainwall as they pleased, while the citizens could only curse their leader. Euram went many nights without dinner, not because the invasion many months ago had left his family penniless, but because he could barely handle what was going on. His mother had still insisted on locking herself away, his father only babbled on about the family name, lost alliances and other stupid things, and his sister was safe with the Prince so many miles away. Euram couldn’t go outside without seeing those stares, whether it was the smug one of a Godwin soldier, or a citizen’s expression of loathing to which he had grown accustomed. The Barows family was hated, there was no doubt. Euram didn’t know how to fix that; he’d always relied on his father to tell him what to do. All he could do was pace in his room and force himself to believe that if it weren’t for certain individuals, he wouldn’t be forced to live like this.

 Eventually, Euram came to realize that that way of thinking was wrong, that he had to have at least been responsible for his misdeeds against the ones who had merely reacted to them. He could blame no one else for that. If he did, that would make him no better than...

 A wimp...

 That was what Lymsleia, then a princess, had called Euram when he had boldly announced to competing for her hand in marriage in the Sacred Games. He couldn’t help but to admit it; she was right. She was right, as well as her aunt.

 An imbecile...a spineless wretch...

 He was all of those things, even now. Euram gazed at the mirror, at his near-skeletal body. Scrawny...wimp...

 Lymsleia had told it like it was; that was a common quality of children. Gizel, on the other hand...

 Gizel had masked his contempt with a smile, an act with which Euram was familiar. After all, he had done it many times himself. But there had been a clear difference between their mannerisms. Gizel always remained calm and collected, while Euram was vibrant, often to the point that it was ridiculous. He exaggerated hand gestures, used colorful and redundant vocabulary, overacted his courtesies, and so on. It was embarrassing, now that he looked back on things. No wonder Luserina had turned her back on him--he was just a joke. And he had proven it time and time again with his petty schemes. It was no wonder Gizel always greeted him with that smile, especially at their last confrontation--Euram amused him.

 A joke to the end, Euram thought with beaten pride. It’ll take a long time for anyone to take me seriously again...assuming they ever did...

 Euram had been so caught up in these bad memories that he hadn’t noticed someone was approaching. His only clue, once he had returned to reality, was a heavy presence behind him, reflected in the mirror. “Hm?” Realizing the person was standing unusually close, Euram turned around, thinking it was the tailor. “Did you forget something?”

 The only response was an indistinct blur, followed by the bridge of his nose shattering. His head was instantly thrown back by the impact, and he cried out, bringing his hands over his nose. Before he could even feel the belated pain, however, another strong punch connected just beneath his chin. Something hard and leathery then slammed into his torso, knocking him into the dressing curtain. Euram’s arms flailed wildly in search of something to hold, but they only aided in his descent, and he crashed to the floor with the curtain beneath him. Moaning, Euram moved himself off of the ground, half-naked, shaking, blood rushing from his nose. “Wha...what?” He tried glimpsing his attackers as he stood, squinting through the pain.

 “Oh, good, we’ve got your attention.”

 “Damn, Riley, I thought you said you were gonna take a more subtle approach.”

 “Hey, he’s still alive, isn’t he?”

 “Whu...” Euram again covered his nose, angered and disgusted by the men’s behavior. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! I demand to--” His eyes widened. “Y-you...I thought...I thought you were...”

 “...still in hiding after two years?” the man named Riley completed, shoving Euram back with one hand. He was of slightly greater height and far thicker build than Euram, and about a decade his senior. “Nice to see you remember any of us, Captain, after you ran off like the coward you are. My brothers got trampled on in that mess after you gave the order to scatter the mob, but nobody remembers them.”

 The noble’s expression changed. Though his eyes were watering for physical reasons, true remorse surfaced through the pain. “I...I never intended for that to happen--”

 “Yeah, too bad it did!” Riley spat through gritted teeth, a flicker of anger in his green eyes. “I had to explain to my mother why her two youngest sons weren’t coming home. And we didn’t even live in Lordlake! My brothers were just there to control the mob--Yeah, that’s right!” he added at seeing the horror on Euram’s face. “I know you remember! And while they were giving their lives, that overfed bastard had me and some other guys bring the mob to the East Palace. He promised us such a hefty payoff for stealing the Dawn Rune...but to this day, we haven’t seen a single potch!”

 “Please,” Euram started, lowering his hand beneath his leaking, broken nose, as if to catch the blood that had already fallen, “we couldn’t find you. Things were so chaotic, so frenzied, so disorderly. And I realize it was my fault, I do. But believe me, we did intend to pay you, it’s just--”

 “Oh, shut up. You nobles are all alike, making promises but never keeping them. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

 “Wh...what do you mean?”

 “Aw, leave the kid alone, Riley,” said a second man mockingly. He was around Riley’s age but stood shorter, and had a face not at all easy on the eyes. “Can’t you see he’s shaking in his frilly boots?”

 An ugly smirk appeared on Riley’s face. “Yeah. That’s what’ll make this so satisfying. The old man may be dead, but at least we can make this one suffer. Ha! And what luck. We were just passing through this town.”

 Euram said nothing as his sights jumped from one man to the other. There was also a third man behind them, one that also looked to be a few years older than him. Once a group of nameless, faceless troops, Euram could only curse gods as he admitted just how familiar they all looked.

 Dealing with closeted skeletons was something Euram had never been particularly good at. He had spent much of his lifetime running away from the consequences of his actions, leaving responsibility to those ruined by the messes he made. This was the second time this particular mess had caught up with him. The first time was when Prince Freyjadour had worked with the Oboro Detective Agency to expose the truth behind Lordlake and the disappearance of the Dawn Rune. A man named Norden had confessed his role in it, as well as implied to what lengths the Barows family had gone to keep him silent. Revelation after revelation only pointed to the guilt of Salum and Euram, and every ally they had gained had only left in disgust. This included Luserina, Euram’s sister, as well...

 Euram had felt much shame that day, but he had convinced himself it was the Prince’s fault that they had lost all their friends. Still, Euram had gotten off quite easily, now that he’d thought about it. Frey’s army only contained a handful of fighters, but they could have just as easily taught the two nobles a lesson they would never forget--the way Sialeeds had to Salum.

 Euram looked at his attackers, his heart pounding in his chest. He was in extreme danger, he knew. After all, they had already attacked. It was only a matter of time before they--

 “Get him.”

 Euram tried to back away, but Riley’s lackeys had surrounded and grabbed a hold of him. “Please, don’t do this. Not now.”

 “Ohhh, what, I should wait another two years because I’ll know where to find you?”

 “No! You can do what you want to me, but just not now! There’s something I have to do--”

 “Yeah, we know, you have more people to screw over--”

 “Just listen, you idiot!” Euram shouted furiously, struggling to break free. “I must go to the Ceras Lake castle to see my sister! She is the first who must hear my apology for all I’ve done. I don’t care if you find it necessary to follow me! After I see Luserina, after that, then...I don’t care what you do to me!”

 Riley looked exasperated. “Why is it...that every time you flap that stupid hole of yours, another lie comes out?”

 “It’s not a lie!” Euram tried to say, but was cut off as the back of Riley’s hand whipped him across the face. He felt it this time, something small but hard as diamonds combined with the force of a swinging human limb. It was then Euram realized Riley was wearing a ring, likely an heirloom. Such an event normally would have made Euram shut his own mouth, afraid to provoke another strike just as painful, but this time, it only infuriated him. He tried to respond to the attack with more aggression, but it wasn’t long before he found a knife pointing at his face.

 “What does it take to shut you up?” Riley demanded. He shook his head, relocating the weapon several inches to the right. Heh. Forget it. If you like making this much noise, then you might as well make some more.”

 Euram gasped as something sliced into the flesh of his cheek. “Uh...” The pain was fresh, the knife cutting a path almost parallel to Euram’s jawline. “Uh...ergh...kuh...okay! Okay! You win! I’ll say...nothing more about leaving.”

 “That a boy.” Riley’s smile spread, much to Euram’s relief, and for a moment it seemed as though his “generosity” would expand beyond sheathing his knife, but any such hope was extinguished when he delivered a hard, fast punch to Euram’s gut.

 The noble grunted, suddenly in desperate need of air. “What are you--” He coughed, simultaneously gagging on the blood that had trickled down his throat from his first injury. “I thought-- I thought you-- ungh...!” He was struck in the same place again.

 “You thought I was gonna let you go if you shut up? Oh, I’m sorry.” He continued beating Euram mercilessly, accenting certain words with more punches. “I did intend to let you go, but I just couldn’t find anything in you worth letting go! Argh! As far as I’m concerned, you can just die like everyone else who died because of your cowardice. But first...” He finally stopped and stood back, looking at his comrades. “Hold him over that table there.”

 The two men obeyed, dragging Euram over to a countertop. They wiped it clean of loose clothes and then forced Euram over until his chest and stomach were pressed against the table, his arms held behind his back.

 “Let’s have a little fun with you first,” Riley continued in what was almost a gleeful tone. “Hmm...what shall we do? I could cut off every limb before I kill you...but no, even I’m not that brutal. I could force you to confess your sins to everyone in this country...but you don’t deserve to die with a clean soul. Hmm...” He made a sound indicating a good thought had come to mind. “I know! We’ll parade you naked around this town as the head of the great Barows faction, and then bring you back here to die.” He pulled the knife from his waist again, tossing it to one of the other men. “Go ahead and do it.”

 Euram only growled angrily as a hand grabbed the waist of his pants. He didn’t know what caused him to make the next statement; the words just seemed to fall out of his mouth. “So eager to have me with my clothes off, are you?” he said sarcastically. “I see courting women hasn’t been high on your list of priorities these past two years.”


 The hand released Euram’s last remaining garment covering him and drew back. The other hands followed suit, but Euram didn’t dare to move.

 “Give it here.” Riley said to one of his subordinates, and then pushed his way between Euram and one of the other men. Euram could see the knife was back in Riley’s possession. “What did you say? I think I’ll cut out that tongue of yours, too.” He started to grab the noble by his shoulder.


 All four men looked in the direction of the voice. The tailor had returned from the back room.

 “I’m trying to organize orders back there, and here you all are, tearing up my store!” the man shouted angrily as he approached them on his cane, slightly waddling from time to time. “And what are you doing to that young man? He is a customer!”

 “And a criminal,” Riley retorted.

 Without turning his head, Euram secretly glanced around the room with his limited visual range. When he was convinced all attention was on the tailor, he promptly made his move.

 Attention was not devoted for long, however, and Riley was the first to notice what was happening. “Huh?” He turned, watching Euram bolt from the place to which he had been confined just a moment ago. “Where are you going?!” he demanded, taking off after Euram with the knife. “Get back here!” He brought his arm back and swung it forward with one wild stroke.

 Euram screamed as the blade punched into his bare flesh with brutal force, sharp steel raking the diagonal span of his torso. His back arched violently as rib and spine were scraped, and the pain sent him stumbling to the floor. “Uuuggghhhhh...” Blood rose quickly and generously, aligning itself with the long, deep gash. Tiny rivulets appeared, pulling away from the wound in descent, eventually mixing in with the rest of his sweat.

 “Leave him alone!” The tailor’s voice was loud and commanding, as though the man himself were used to defending those who were helpless.

 Helpless, Euram thought, his shaky arms lifting him to a collapsed kneeling position. He kept his head bowed, reluctantly swallowing the blood in his throat. Like a child. A stupid, scared child. A spineless, cowardly wretch. A joke to the end.

 But surprisingly, Euram did not feel like crying about it. He was scared, but mostly of not being able to accomplish what he had intended to do. He was sad as well, but he was so incredibly exhausted, and the pain of the past few moments was so overwhelming that to die by Riley’s hand grew more and more tempting. After all, in the end, perhaps he really did deserve it, to die as other men serving under his command had. At the moment, it seemed the only path to true redemption.

 “I am...sorry,” he murmured to no one in particular, or perhaps to some unseen deity. Another red droplet trickled out of his damaged nose, painting his upper lip before spilling over. “If the was meant to be...then...I’ll longer...” His vision grew blurry, almost as though it were willing him to lose touch with everything around him.

 Perhaps death would soon embrace him; perhaps it was what he truly desired. The more he bled, the more he only grew certain of both...

 “How can you do something like this to a man who’s already paid the price for all that he’s done?!” the tailor demanded, his voice muted in the fog of Euram’s reality. “He’s already lost everything! Isn’t that enough for you?”

 “He still has his life,” came Riley’s cold voice.

 “And all he wishes is to live it,” the tailor told him. “He desperately wants to change; you can see it in his eyes, you can hear it in his voice. And damn it, quit acting like you’re the only one who’s lost family members in all this fighting, because you’re not. But even if you were, now’s not the time to be bitter about it, and even he realizes that. This war has divided so many...and poor Lady Luserina, I’m sure she’s beside herself not knowing what’s going on in Rainwall. I’m sure this young man would like to see her at least once...”

 Those words were enough to bring Euram back to his senses. Yes, of course! That’s why I’m here, to see Luserina and the Prince! I have to see them one final make amends...

 I mustn’t die here!

 Momentarily forgetting his wounds, he quickly looked around, catching sight of his hooded cloak, which had been tossed to the floor in all the chaos. He reached out for it when he felt a series of overwhelming pains; he ignored them for the sake of retrieving the cloak. Once it was in his possession, he immediately covered himself, glancing back to see how the confrontation was turning out.

 It seemed all focus truly had turned to the conversation between Riley and the tailor; even the two men with Riley had stopped and were listening with mild interest.

 If Euram was to survive, he knew he had to leave now, but he hated his escape route. Rather, he hated the fact that he had a good chance of messing it up. First, he was naturally clumsy, and second, he wasn’t exactly in the best of shape or health, so even if he hadn’t been so accident-prone, he would probably be making plenty of noise in the escape attempt. In the end, he told himself that he had to try for Luserina’s sake. However...

 He continued studying the other men, concerned with the outcome of this confrontation, mostly with what would happen to the tailor. Euram had done so much in his past, acting irresponsibly and abandoning troops under his command at the worst possible moment; was he really going to leave an innocent man to take the heat for him?

 Please, Euram pleaded to the same entity to which he had been apologizing a moment ago. Don’t let them...not to this kind gentleman...

 As if in response to his prayer, the tailor let out an amused chuckle at something Riley had said. “I’m sorry, but was that a threat? You’re going to have to say it a little louder; my old ears can’t possibly pick up the ramblings of a fairy.”

 “What did you say?!” Riley exploded. “If you’re going to call me a fairy, you’d better prove you have the right!” He lunged at the tailor, but was in for quite the surprise; the tailor dodged to Riley’s right with near lighting-quick reflexes. Riley yelped as his arm was suddenly twisted behind his back, and he let go of the crimson-stained knife in reflex. “What the--what are you--who are you?!”

 The tailor looked disappointed, tapping the floor with his cane...which he still held in his other hand. “What is it about youth and stupidity? Or perhaps the quality of Barows troops has diminished since I last served?”

 Both Euram and Riley shared in the same shock; Euram was certain he had never seen the tailor before.

 “What are you saying?” Riley asked. “You used to be--”

 “That’s right. Number one soldier in my unit. And, like you, I got to know just how much Salum Barows’ promises were worth. ‘We’ll take great care of you long after you leave the service,’ he said. Right. He took care of me real well after my knees gave out. So well, in fact, that until that first piece of compensation ever comes, I’ll be running this goddamned shop.” A bitter laugh followed. “Do you think I want to sew and alter clothes for the rest of my life? What my wife makes as a maid at the inn isn’t enough for the both of us, so I have to make a living! But it hurts to stand for more than ten minutes at a time, and I can’t do any other kind of labor. And even if I had the brains to work for the Senate, it would make me sick to my stomach if I had to work with someone like Lord Barows everyday.”

 “So what are you stopping me for?! I’m doing you and everyone else a favor and getting rid of this stupid kid!”

 “You’re doing no one a favor!” the tailor snarled at him, tightening the physical trap containing Riley’s arm. “Except for maybe the Godwins. Have you even bothered pulling your head out from your ass long enough to acknowledge current events? There’s a war going on. Salum Barows is dead. Alliances have been forged and broken. The Godwins occupy Sol-Falena and, until very recently, also occupied Rainwall, destroying any sense of previous rule over the place. But just because Godwin withdrew from there doesn’t mean things are back to what they were! There is a lot of work to be done in order to restore that place, and that young man you are trying to kill is perfectly capable of taking on that task.”

 “Hah...oh please. He’s a damn coward. Someone so useless couldn’t possibly hope to accomplish anything.”

 The tailor shook his head. “That’s where you’re wrong. This war has changed a lot of people...including him. I’ve seen it in his eyes--he genuinely wants to turn over a new leaf. So instead of hanging on to bitter memories of a broken promise like some pathetic, wounded animal, why don’t you get the hell over yourself and give this one another chance? You say cowardice is useless, but holding grudges to the point you can’t move on is just as bad, if not worse.”

 “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Riley sputtered, wrestling violently with the tailor’s strong grasp. “The world would be better off if freaks like him were dead!”

 Not a second after the declaration, the tailor loosened his hold and spun the man around. Using his cane, he delivered three strikes--one to the gut, and two successive hits across the face. When he was done, Riley fell to the ground, unconscious. He then turned to the two remaining men. “What about you? If you believe the same garbage...”

 Euram had been watching the past few moments with wonder and renewed hope, and he realized he still had his opportunity. He started to back away towards the entrance of the store, being careful not to make any noise or other indication he was making his escape. His wounds were throbbing, but somehow he managed to make it to the door. Just before he stepped outside, however, he turned back for one last glance.

 Whether by coincidence or predictability on his part, the tailor’s eyes met Euram’s for a moment. Seeing the solemn expression on the younger man’s face, the tailor gave a subtle nod, a gesture that was immediately reciprocated.

 Euram then took another moment as his expression turned remorseful, and he mouthed the words “I’m sorry” before finally stealing away. Taunts directed at different people faded behind him as he retreated, and he did not look back.


 It had been a bad idea to ride in his condition, but he had to do it.

 ...or so his justification for the impulsive decision went. He had to make it to the castle as quickly as he could. Truthfully, he could have crossed the town back to his boat; it would have given him opportunity to rest, at the very least.

 But Euram wasn’t thinking at that moment, at least, not carefully. He rarely did in the heat of the moment, placing priority with the strongest desire, and then basing his decision solely on that. It had also been that way when he had abandoned allies after a Barows plot had unexpectedly gone sour. Sensing imminent danger, he uttered some excuse that he didn’t remember now and bolted, leaving Jidan Guisu’s forces to be swallowed up by both Godwin’s and the Prince’s armies. Preserving his own life had been highest priority then.

 It was just like when his gladiator, Zegai, had been exposed as an Armes spy in a plot to assassinate the Queen. Though the only true part was the fact that Zegai was from New Armes, Euram had chosen to publicly wash his hands of him, just to preserve his and his father’s names.

 And, of course, Euram had made some rash decisions when appointed Captain of the Barows Garrison during the Lordlake uprising. After debris from Salum Barows’ dam had contaminated Lordlake’s water supply, the citizens had gathered together in order to destroy the dam. Euram, who had been in charge of keeping the mob under control, had panicked at seeing them come his way. That was when he had ordered his men to scatter the mob, setting off a chain of events that had led to Queen Arshtat destroying the town using the Sun Rune’s power.

 I’ve horribly...just on impulse, Euram realized. And now...I’ll be the one who suffers.

 It did seem fitting that, after all the people who had been hurt by his impulses, he should receive a similar fate. He did not allow himself to complain, as horrible as he felt. He was starving, dehydrated, dirty, and he was wounded, though he was sure the first three factors were causing him to feel worse than he already did.

 It had taken Euram many hours, but he had finally reached the Sindar castle that served as the headquarters for Prince Freyjadour’s army. Some time between Yashuna and this point, the wound on his bandaged thigh had reopened. The horse’s movements from beneath Euram caused him to bounce enough that the wound began to hurt all over again. Even worse, the bandage itself started to slip. Eventually, he slowed the horse’s pace to something less rough, but the damage had already been done.

 Still, no matter how much pain he was in, no matter what detours he had taken, he had to do it. He had to see his sister. He had to see the Prince, and any other unfortunate soul affected by Euram’s stupid impulses. He had to make amends, even if they were all to react in the same manner as Riley and his subordinates had. If this truly were the last thing he was to do before he died, he was ready to accept that.

 Due to the cloak he donned that concealed his identity from those not within immediate range, no one charged him with being the enemy...yet. He could feel stares from several people who, no doubt, were wondering about his presence, or perhaps about the reason he had taken the back road by the ruins. There was a sense of déjà vu as he crossed the long walkway with no resistance, but somehow, he was confident no one would ambush him while citing bogus charges.

 His horse had nearly crossed the entire way when two castle guards stopped him. Euram obediently remained where he was, resigning himself to their questions.

 “State your business, young man,” one of the guards said.

 “I...wish to see my sister,” Euram said, his voice weak but still audible. “And possibly, His Highness.”

 “And for what reason?”

 Euram’s heart quivered, the way it always did moments before he was about to perform his part in one of his father’s plots. “ issue...a thousand the both of them...for all the crimes committed in the name of my house...”

 “I see. But who are you?”

 The noble’s shoulders slumped in shame, as though the guard had taken away the one thing he had long tried to protect. “It’s...better that you do not know. I...” He was trembling now.

 “Well, if we don’t know who you are, then we can’t let you in. We’ll have to send you back to where you came from.”

 Euram let out something that was a cross between a sigh and a sob. Gizel, Riley, and even the Lordlake mob had been nothing next to this. “A...all right. I’ll tell you. I...I...”

 His heart pounded as the guards stared at him with unsmiling eyes. This was the moment, and yet... imbecile like you...

 Admitting to himself the level of his weakness and incompetence was one thing, but admitting it to others was a harder task still. He had spent enough time outside of others’ genuine acceptance, so he wasn’t sure he could bear being turned away at this point. And one mention of his name could very well cause that to happen.

 But still...


 ...spineless wretch...

 It hurt to move, but somehow, he had managed to dismount the horse. No sooner than he took a step toward the guards did he lower himself to one knee--with obvious difficulty--and bow.

 “...Euram Barows,” he finished shakily. “I am Euram Barows.” He lifted his head, overcome with despair. “Please! I know I have no right, but I beg of you, please don’t turn me away now! I don’t care if you kill me or dismiss me or incarcerate me afterward, but please at least allow me to see my sister! Please...”

 “Euram Barows?” The first guard exchanged confused glances with the second. “So you’re the brother of Lady Luserina. I’ve heard things, but...” He shook his head. “...guess it’s different when you put the name to the face. Plus, there are lots of rumors flying around...especially the one about the murder in the Barows mansion...committed by Lady Sialeeds herself...”

 Euram’s heart was overflowing with relief, perhaps at the feeling everyone probably already knew. It spared him the burden that he might not be believed. “Yes,” he declared as the emotions continued to well up inside of him. Before he realized it, it was all coming out of him. “It’s true. Lady Sialeeds killed Luserina’s and my father, Salum Barows. was not completely unprovoked. He committed so many crimes. I...committed so many crimes...many, many, many crimes, I...” Euram turned his hands over, studying his soiled, trembling palms. He did not know why he was confessing to men when no sort of trial was taking place, but he couldn’t stop it; the horrors he had kept to himself all those years were finally uncoiling and scattering everywhere for all to see. “I did so many terrible things. Aggravating the Lordlake mob that eventually charged into the East Palace, watching as my father’s men stole the Dawn Rune, abandoning allies as the tide turned in battle, hiring a bandit to sully the Prince’s name, attempting to endanger His Highness’ life on more than one occasion...I...all of it! It was all my doing, and I’m so sorry for everything! The countless injuries I have inflicted upon His Highness and...and poor Luserina...she, too, has had to deal with all of, please, please...!” He looked at them sadly, desperately. “Let me see her. Let me apologize to her! And then...and can do whatever you want to me...”

 “I think someone’s already done enough,” the second guard remarked, taking a closer look at the young man’s bruised, swollen, bloodied face. “What in the hell happened to you?”

 “We’ll let you in,” said the first guard before Euram could answer, “but you’re going to see Dr. Silva. It’s His Highness’ orders to properly treat any injured that come our way before anything else. And then...well, I don’t like what you’ve said at all, about what you did to the Prince and the royal family...but you sound sincere. While you’re in the infirmary, I’ll have someone notify Lady Luserina of your arrival here. Whatever happens afterward...I suppose that’s up to the Prince to decide.

 Just then, all the energy that had fueled his sudden confession left him. Euram became aware of just how truly weak his body was feeling. “You...have my...thanks...gentlemen...” he said as the whole world began to distance itself from him once more. All the sounds of the day grew dull, and all the things he saw began to blend together in a haze. “My...sincerest...thanks...” For a moment, he thought something might snap him back to reality, but his body gave out then, and he fell forward. He didn’t feel the pain of the impact with the ground as he slipped into unconsciousness, nor could he hear the concerned cries of the guards.

 He felt and heard nothing else.


 “Oh...what is it, Lady Luserina?”

 In the infirmary, Luserina was standing next to Lyon’s bedside, but for one moment, she was miles away. She continued looking over her shoulder at no particular object, her facial features reflecting the uncertainty she felt inside. When nothing happened, she turned back toward the one who had addressed her. “I...I just...had the strangest feeling, is all.”

 “You’ve been tense all day,” Silva remarked, stepping out from behind one of the patient’s beds.

 “D-does it show?”

 “I saw you toying with your hair earlier. You only do that whenever you’re worried about someone you care about. And now, you’re staring off in places like you can’t relax. Is something bothering you?”

 “Um...nothing more than usual,” the girl responded, though her fingers involuntarily found her long blonde strands once more. When she realized what she was doing, she let go, dropping her arm. “I...I don’t know. I guess there are those rumors about Rainwall, but I’m not really worried about that. I mean, I shouldn’t be worried about that...not even if they were true.”

 “Oh, really?” Skeptical, the female doctor walked toward the girl, adjusting the stethoscope around her neck. “I think if your family is in the same place murders are happening, you should be worried. You shouldn’t lie to yourself about that. Maybe it’s easy to justify indifference when your family hasn’t exactly been a bunch of saints, but that doesn’t mean you should.”

 “I’m not being indifferent, just objective,” Luserina insisted. She lowered her eyes to the floor, still uneasy. “If my father is dead, of course I feel sad...but it doesn’t mean Lady Sialeeds wasn’t entirely justified, either. I just...I just wish he would have come to his senses a long time ago.”

 Silva seemed to accept the response. “Okay. So you’re not worried. Then why do you seem so anxious?”

 Luserina shook her head. “I told you, I don’t know. It’s just a feeling in the pit of my stomach. I feel like I should be here.”

 “Well, as much as I appreciate your help, there isn’t any need for you to do everything here, either. And you’ve already visited Lyon twice today. Tell you what. If Murad or I need anything, you’ll be the first person I holler for.”

 The girl smiled timidly. “Thank you, Doctor.”

 As Luserina left the infirmary, she found that her feelings did not at all settle. She went upstairs and headed outside to gaze at the water, or maybe even to catch an entertaining earful of Lun’s and Subala’s bickering...anything to distract her from whatever mysterious thing was weighing on her heart. The only thing that happened was Luserina realizing her stroll was a waste of time.

 ...that is, until a conversation between two of the castle’s residents caught her ear.

 “...confirmation from Rainwall, so I guess it’s true after all,” said a man, who wasn’t aware the girl was nearby. “Lady Sialeeds is...”

 The other man nodded. “...a murderer,” he completed for his friend. “Didn’t show any mercy at all to Lord Barows. Some say she just killed him right there in his home.”

 “Yeah. Not that I can blame her, from what I’ve heard about him, but still...”

 Though it had been she who initially left the Barows mansion in disgust over her family’s misdeeds, Luserina couldn’t help but feel sad over this news. In spite of all the crimes Salum had committed, he was still her father and she loved him.

 “When you say there was word from Rainwall, what did you mean? Was someone spying on Lady Sialeeds?”

 “No, more like witnessing firsthand. Didn’t you hear about that poor young man by the back gate, the one they say was badly beaten?”

 Luserina’s eyes widened. What?

 “Young man? A servant?”

 “Maybe. It was some blond guy. They say he was dressed in rags, skinny as a rail, like someone was starving him. I heard he was important, though, so maybe he was head of the servants, or...”

 “You don’t think...?”

 Oh no, Luserina thought, filled with a profound sense of dread. No no no no. Don’t let it be...please don’t let it be. Not him.

 “Well, in either case, he was too badly injured to give a more clear statement. He passed out from the trauma, in fact. They took him to the infirmary--”

 It didn’t even occur to Luserina to question the men across the bridge. This was something she had to confirm or, more preferably, disprove with her own eyes. I knew it. I knew it. I should’ve... The sick feeling in her stomach only grew stronger as she made her way back into the castle, down the flight of stairs, through the halls, and then...

 “Hey, um...Lady Luserina!”

 Luserina looked as a teenage girl had stepped out of the infirmary, a solemn expression on her young face. “Lun...”

 “Um...” Lun brought her hands together, as anxious as ever. “Yeah...well...I was just in there checking up on Lyon, and...well, Doctor Silva said to come get you--”

 “He’s in there, isn’t he?” Luserina blurted out, devastated before the news could truly be delivered.

 “Ahhh...” Avoiding the other girl’s heartbroken gaze, Lun looked away slightly, unsure of how to begin consoling. “Er...guy from Rainwall, blond, real skinny, kind of banged up looking?”

 Luserina let out a hushed sob, and she hurried past Lun.

 Lun turned around, watching the other girl enter the infirmary. “Lady Luserina,” she said sympathetically.


 “Where? Where is he? Doctor Silva...”

 Startled, Silva turned around. “Oh...Luserina. Good. They brought him in about ten minutes ago.”

 Overcome with desperation, Luserina approached the doctor. “Please...tell he...?”

 “Oh, he’s alive, most definitely. But somebody really hurt him, and he doesn’t look like he’s been eating lately. Murad is doing a full examination now, so...” She turned her head to the right before turning back to the girl. “I hate to do this since you just got back, but rules are rules. Do you think you could wait outside for a while? I’ll get you the moment Murad is done.”

 Luserina also looked in the direction Silva had a moment ago; some distance away, another doctor in a white coat was standing with his back to the two females. He was hovering over one of the beds, a bed that, Luserina noted, did indeed contain a patient.

 “Of...of course,” she responded, but moved slowly, reluctantly. Twice she looked back at the form mostly concealed by Murad, one time as she walked away, and another just before she exited.


 Anticipation of all things uncertain had been nothing compared to the anticipation of bad news somewhat certain. Luserina waited faithfully outside of the infirmary, several feet from a castle guard who was also waiting to see a friend.


 The girl looked up, seeing a familiar sight. Prince Freyadour approached, dressed in his usual flashy garb. “Oh...Prince. Are you here to see Lyon?”

 Freyadour nodded. “Yes, but...why are you two just standing here? Is Doctor Silva examining a patient?”

 “Uh...” Luserina avoided his gaze. She hadn’t even thought about what Euram’s presence meant for Freyadour. The Prince would have every right to be upset, of course; after all, it was Euram who verbally cursed him, attempted to put his life in danger several times, and even hired a teenage boy to dress like him and rob travelers in order to ruin his good reputation. If Freyjadour did not protest to Euram being there, then he truly had a kind heart.

 “What?” The Prince asked, a bit unsettled by Luserina’s response, or lack of. “Did something happen? Lyon...?”

 “She’s fine, Prince,” Luserina quickly replied. “It’s not her. It’s just...”

 “What is it?”

 She expelled a sigh of anguish. “It’ brother. He’s in there. Something terrible happened to him, and now he’s here. He’s...” Luserina felt her eyes becoming misty. “I don’t...know how he is, but it doesn’t sound good. Somebody attacked him...maybe at the mansion, I don’t know. They’re not telling me. But it seems the rumors were true as well. My father is dead. My father is dead, and my brother’s life is...well, that’s the thing. I really don’t know...”

 The Prince was shocked, but for different reasons than Luserina might have surmised. “The rumors...are true?” he asked. “Then...then...”

 Their eyes finally met, and Luserina could see that Freyjadour had something heavy on the mind. “Prince...” She, too, needed to unburden her thoughts.

 “I’m so sorry!” the two declared simultaneously.

 “Oh.” Surprise covered the girl’s face. “Why are you sorry? My brother has tried to hurt you one too many times, and now...”

 The Prince lowered his head shamefully. “I’m sorry that, after witnessing all the children who have lost their parents in this war, and having lost her own father at a young age, my aunt still felt the need to take another father from his daughter.”

 “Prince...” Luserina said. She felt strangely warm at hearing this confession. “Please don’t be sorry. Yes, it hurts to know he is dead, but it hurts even more knowing what he did when he was alive. Please don’t apologize for your aunt. In retrospect, she had every right to target him.”

 “Maybe, but it doesn’t make it right.”

 “No, it doesn’t.”

 “So why are you sorry?” asked Freyjadour. “If you’re going to apologize for your family again--”

 “I can’t help it. After everything they did to you, you shouldn’t feel obligated to show them any kindness.”

 The Prince looked down, thinking for a moment. “Believe it or not, Luserina, when I show kindness to someone, it isn’t necessarily because I feel compassion for that person. I mean, most of the time I do, but...” He lifted the hand bearing the Dawn Rune, watching it glow as he slowly flexed his fingers. “Sometimes that person has ties to someone I care about, so my ‘act of kindness’ is really more for that someone I care about.” He met Luserina’s gaze again. “You’re my friend, and someone I trust and completely respect. If you still care about your brother, then I can learn to tolerate him. But that doesn’t mean I won’t teach him a lesson if he gets out of line.”

 Luserina chuckled lightly. “Thank you, though at this point, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that. I doubt he’ll get out of line for a very long time, but...”


 “I just...don’t know what to say to him when I see him. When I left the mansion...well, you remember, right? I basically cut him off from my life...both him and my father. I thought I was free of my family’s shame, but...the shame only seemed to follow me wherever I went. Every time my brother did something to hurt you, I found myself apologizing for that shame yet again. There used to be a time Euram and I were close, and we could tell each other anything...but I can barely remember those days now. All I have are those sad memories of him drifting away, becoming someone I could barely recognize. He and Father...doing so many terrible things...those are the only memories I recall now...”

 “That...that can’t be true...”

 “Luserina? Oh, you’re here too, Your Highness.”

 Luserina and Freyjadour turned to see Silva standing in the doorway.

 “Doctor Silva,” Luserina said. “May he...?”

 Silva nodded, stepping aside, and Luserina walked in, followed by the Prince.

 While Freyjadour headed toward his usual spot by Lyon’s bedside, Luserina took a slightly different route to a point several beds away.

 All the time in the world seemed to accompany the girl at that moment; all things that were previously hushed were pushed into the forefront of her senses. She could hear the chirping of birds and the wind that occasionally whistled past the castle walls. Lamps that burned in the room seemed to grow brighter. At last, the figure on the bed grew more defined, and Luserina stopped when she was at the foot of the bed.

 “Oh...” she gasped, truly shocked at her brother’s appearance.

 Euram lay unconscious, naked from the waist up except for some gauze that circled his body, wrapped over his shoulder and across his chest like a sash. However, the bandages could not conceal the fact that his appetite had been just what Silva had said. He had lost a lot of weight. Ribs were making deep impressions through taut skin, and pants that were once form-fitting were slightly loose on him now. Even his face looked bony, angles appearing where there had once been a more healthy roundness. Blood and fresh scars appeared all over his body, as well as a series of greenish-purple bruises across the stomach. His face had also seen better days, bearing a thin scar that paralleled his jawline, a bruised, swollen eye, and a broken nose that was almost as swollen. Oddly, his lack of appetite was what concerned Luserina the most; it meant that he had not been taking care of himself, or worse, not to mention that someone had assaulted him knowing this fact, so it seemed crueler to her than the assault itself.

 “Ah...” Murad said, finally approaching her. “My apologies, Lady Luserina.”

 “How is he?”

 “In pretty bad shape,” Murad admitted, but offered a tiny smile. “But nothing he can’t recover from. They say he passed out by the back entrance. I’m sure it was from exhaustion, as well as starvation.”

 Luserina looked hopeful. “So, then...he’ll be all right?”

 Murad’s serious expression returned. “Well...there is one thing that concerns me. There’s another wound on his leg that was bandaged up before, but the bandage came loose and the wound reopened quite a while ago and has gotten infected.”

 “What are you saying?”

 “Just that priorities have changed slightly. Don’t you worry. I’ve treated the wound the best I could--most of his wounds, in fact--and I’ll continue to monitor him throughout the week. Meanwhile, your brother should be up and about in a few days, though he may seem frail at first. But I’m confident he’ll make a full recovery. Now, if you’ll excuse me...”

 Th-thank you.” Luserina watched as the doctor walked off to check up on another patient. When he was gone, she turned her gaze back to Euram.

 “Brother...” she murmured, stepping closer to him. “Maybe...maybe someone had a reason, but this...” She shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. “...this is just cruel. Euram, what happened to you?” She looked around, spotting the chair behind her. She pulled it up to Euram’s bedside and then took a seat.

 What happened? the girl continued to wonder, frustrated and appalled by the nature of the young man’s appearance. Did he get in a fight? Was he tortured and starved the way those men said he was? Or...did one of the Rainwall townsfolk simply hold a grudge and wait until Father was dead to make a move? Not that I can completely blame them, but still...

 Such thoughts only served to depress her, reminding her yet again of her family’s sins. “Brother,” she said, her voice nearly a whisper. “I...I realize it may have been far too late for Father...but...for some reason, I’ve never believed that about you. Even at your worst, there was always something in your face that you tried to hide. That look, that was all I believed in these past eight years, for your sake. It was because...what you were trying to hide away was the boy who was once my closest confidant. Do you...remember him? I...I thought I had forgotten, but...talking to you now, it’s all coming back. It was a time when you never felt the need to hide anything from anyone...and you were always on my side. A time you were happy...and not forcing smiles just to throw off one’s suspicion.” Luserina reached out, taking Euram’s hand into hers.

 “That...that night...when Hiram was killed, I thought I’d lost a brother, but I was wrong. I...had actually lost two, but I didn’t realize it until you began drifting away, always under Father’s supervision. I missed that boy. He comforted me when we got the terrible news, but after a few days, he was already a stranger to me. Still...I believed in him. I believed he never went away. He was always there, but you kept him hidden. He is the one who shed truth on the justifications you made for all the bad things you did. You...really hated what you were doing. I know you did. You hated it, but you couldn’t stop. Why couldn’t you stop? You...” The tears were sliding down her cheeks. “And now...and now this...” She felt a hand on her left shoulder.

 Luserina turned her head, surprised to find the Prince standing there. “Y-Your Highness...?”

 “How is he?”

 “’s nothing just...looks a lot worse than it really is...”

 “Yeah, I’ll say,” Freyjadour remarked. “But...I’m glad he’ll be all right.”

 “Do you really mean that?” Luserina asked, suddenly desiring his approval. “Or...”

 “...or am I just saying that because you’re his sister?” he completed. “It’s not just that. He just never struck me as the evil type, just...misguided, I guess. I always figured he’d be a different person if he wasn’t around Salum so” His face reddened. “S-sorry.”

 But Luserina reached up with her free hand, touching the Prince’s in appreciation. “It’s all right,” she insisted. “I told you, you don’t need to apologize. My father did a lot of terrible things, and those things eventually made the people hate him. I accepted that long well as the fact that my brother was corrupted because of him. But now...with my father dead, and the fact that Euram came all the way over some strange way, it gives me hope. Maybe, just maybe...I can speak to him, to help turn him around...”

 “Let me speak to him with you.”

 “Huh? Prince, you don’t have to do--oh, right. Sorry.”

 “It’s okay,” Prince Freyjadour said, giving the girl’s shoulder an encouraging squeeze. “It’ll all be okay...”


 A few days came, and a few days went, along with any promise Dr. Murad had made about Euram’s recovery. Luserina had visited several times a day, but there had been no response from the young man who only lay in a comatose state.

 “Indeed, it is most puzzling,” the doctor was saying. “Physically, he’s fine. His wounds are healing nicely, so he should be regaining his strength. I don’t know why he isn’t awake, unless...”

 “Unless what, doctor?” Luserina asked.

 “Unless that just isn’t his desire,” Murad finished. “Of course, I don’t specialize in such areas, but it’s true that mental health and physical health are connected. A body may heal, but if the mind isn’t there to guide it, then there isn’t much else I can do about it. It may be strange for me to say, but I think he’ll come around when he’s ready, though I have no way of guaranteeing when.”


 Falling, falling, falling...

 Euram descended into nothingness, helpless as a child forever clinging to fears.

 A stupid, scared child.

 Yes, he knew this feeling. Over the course of eight years, he had grown quite familiar with it. Some might say it defined him, the way he believed it did. But for as long as his priorities were poorly placed, he could be nothing else. The boy who wanted to please Daddy, and play a game with Mommy. But neither event yielded any such positive result. The weaker he became, the more Salum controlled him, and the more Salum controlled him, the harder he kept that little game.

 But Euram knew he wasn’t that weak on the inside. He sometimes became scared, but he also endured many ordeals. He was a survivor. Yes, that had to be it. He survived when the feuding Princesses had hired Nether Gate members to assassinate nobles on both the Godwin and Barows sides. He survived when his elder brother had been a victim, and his mother had shut herself in her room after the murder. He survived the incident at Lordlake, when he had misjudged the mob and made a rash decision to scatter them. He survived when the truth came out, and every ally and friend he had come to know abandoned him. Most of all, he survived after witnessing Lady Sialeeds murdering his father right before his eyes, survived the humiliation of his own failed murder attempt on Gizel, and survived the assault by a bitter Riley and his friends.

 But what did it all mean? Just that he was stronger than he seemed? What did it matter when he wasn’t willing to make proper use of that strength?

 “It means you’re just a child,” came the mocking voice.

 Euram’s feet touched the ground lightly. He looked around in order to identify the person, though there was no need; he would never forget that voice, the voice of one who had attempted to kill him, and had nearly succeeded.

 “That’s right,” Riley continued, coming further into view. Just as it had happened in real life, he was accompanied by two men. “You know it’s true, you clueless fop. The fact that you aren’t even denying it proves it.”

 “That doesn’t mean anything,” Euram responded weakly. “I am not a child. I...I am...” He trailed off, at a loss for positive definitions.

 “Well, you sure aren’t anything better. ‘Child’ might actually be a compliment. You’re a child with remarkably good luck. How else do you think you made it through all those ordeals, all those messes you got yourself into? Do you think you endured all of that on your own strength? Don’t make me laugh!”

 Euram had no answer to that, but it made him angry. He didn’t have time to stew in this anger, because the three men were closing in on him. And just like the attack at Yashuna, they had grabbed him before he could get away.

 But instead of feeling fear, Euram only looked at them sadly. “Why are you doing this? Aren’t you satisfied with the scars you’ve given me?”

 Riley looked at the other two men, chortling. “Scars? What scars? Those wounds on your body are superficial. You’re the one who screwed yourself up. We’re just here to finish the job.” Before he even finished that sentence, his fist commenced pounding into Euram’s stomach.

 The noble reflexively and continuously gasped and coughed in reflex, though the attack didn’t hurt the way it had in Yashuna village. And strangely, he didn’t feel it at the site where Riley struck. Rather, the pain was some distance below that, and not at all a pleasant experience. Euram looked up as if to seek some object or person to save him from the assault. And there, standing in the distance with her back to him, was Luserina.

 “Luserina...!” Euram called out. “Ugh...! Lu...Luseri...wa...wait...! Gah...!” He doubled over as Riley continued hitting him.

 Euram’s cries had not completely gone unheard, however. Luserina turned around, a rather familiar expression of disgust on her face. “What is it, Brother?”

 “ have to...ugh...hear me...!”

 “I’ve heard enough,” the girl said coldly. “In fact, every time you hurt His Highness the Prince, I had to hear it fifty times a day. Everyone couldn’t stop talking about what a vindictive fool you were. And they were right. No, Brother. I will hear no more. You are a disgrace to the Barows family name. It would be better if no one ever heard of you again.” With that, she walked away, vanishing after a few steps.

 The pain penetrated deeper than all the wounds Riley had given him, combined. “No...! Wait! Luserina!”

 “I’d advise you to stop bothering the lady,” another familiar voice said, but this time, it was closer.

 Euram turned to see Prince Freyjadour approaching him from the side. “Oh...Your Highness...! Please...! You back...Luserina...! I must...before they kill me...I...and must...hear me...”

 “And why must I do anything?” the Prince demanded, his tone near identical to Luserina’s. “I don’t owe you a thing. Besides, after all the attempts you’ve made on my life, pathetic as they were, it’s only fitting you should die here.”

 “Please...Your Highness...” Euram pleaded, but he could only watch as Freyjadour, too, faded into the air. “Oh...” His last chance for redemption was gone; nothing would ever save him now.

 The only sound was Riley laughing as he punched Euram in the gut over and over. Euram no longer resisted; he was too overwhelmed with the truth.

 He understood now. He wasn’t a survivor, just someone who, though frequently described as being incompetent, had become rather adept to escaping bad situations. But this was one situation he would not be able to escape, not until...

 The assault had sent Euram into a terrible coughing fit, a new pain sharp in his throat. Euram gasped and wheezed, finding it more and more difficult to breathe. No matter how hard he coughed, his throat only grew tighter, the pain even sharper, until finally--


 Euram sat up with a jolt, coughing loudly and violently. He desperately sucked air down through his parched, burning throat, expelling it just as noisily. “Argh...!” He felt something apply gentle pressure across the top of his back.

 “Are you all right?” an older female voice asked in concern. “Calm down. Come on. It’ll be okay. Just try to breathe slowly through your mouth. That’s right. Just calm down and breathe. It’s okay. Now drink this.”

 Euram uttered a cry of surprise as something thin and hard aligned to his lips, a rush of cold liquid demanding entry. He gagged at the initial intrusion, but his senses quickly showed appreciation to the presence of the water. His hands instinctively reached up to support the ceramic cup, and he drank greedily, water occasionally spilling down the sides of his mouth. “Ummm...”

 “Good. There we go. Nothing like a drink of fresh, clean water.”

 Euram lowered the cup slowly, breathing more easily. Clean water...

 He wasn’t certain where he had heard the phrase before, but he suddenly felt that not only was it of great importance, but that it also concerned him.

 Euram’s eyes were suddenly open, his heart pounding in alarm. Lordlake!

 When he looked around in the dimmed room, however, there was nothing resembling the town itself. Nothing, perhaps, except for...

 “Finally awake, huh?” Silva asked. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, studying the young man. “We were getting worried for a while there. We’d anticipated you waking up a couple of days earlier, but when that didn’t happen...”

 Euram stared at her, the terrible feeling still very much present. A doctor, he thought. I’d heard a female doctor treated the patients in Lordlake, and then came here...could this doctor be that same person?

 “What is it? Shocked to see a female doctor?”

 Euram shook his head.

 “Okay. I’m Doctor Silva, by the way. Can you say your name?”

 Euram started to nod, but realized the woman was looking for a more vocal response. “Uh...Eu...Euram...Barows.”

 “How many fingers am I holding up?”

 Euram looked at the doctor’s raised hand, the thumb restraining only the pinky finger. “Umm...three...?”

 “Good. What’s fourteen plus six?”

 “Arrrggghhh...” Euram closed his eyes. It was simple arithmetic, but something about the sudden quiz aggravated him at the moment. “...Twenty,” he finally said.

 “Do you know what year it is?”

 “It is...year 237 of the Falenan calendar. To foreign lands, it is better known as the 450th year in the solar calendar.”

 “Ha. Good. Very good.”

 Euram began to smirk, but he then remembered something. It had been bothering him even before he woke up. “Doctor...if you would...please...I must be excused from...”

 Silva shook her head. “No can do, young man. You were a mess when they first brought you in. The swelling on your face has gone down, and your other wounds have made progress, but at the moment, I don’t want you doing anything to reverse that. I realize you haven’t done much in six days, but you still need your rest,’s probably safer to stay here for now...”

 “That’s not what I meant, Doctor,” Euram said, looking more embarrassed now. “It’s just that I need to...oh heavens...” He lightly placed a hand beneath his navel, just above an area which presently contained a rather unbearably sticky pressure.

 “Oh.” Silva chuckled. “My apologies. I guess that’s something else you haven’t done in six days.” She turned toward her left, pointing. “End of this room, first door to your right. Can you stand?”

 “I...I think so...” He brought his legs over the free side of the bed. When he found the floor, he lifted himself up, almost stumbling back once. Fortunately, he made his way across the infirmary, using the moonlight which poured through the windows as a guide.

 When he was finished, he reentered the infirmary to find Silva at another patient’s bedside, redressing a wound. A soldier wounded in the capture of Stormfist, he surmised.

 Silva looked up as Euram came closer. “There you are. Feel better now?”

 Euram nodded. “Yes. Thank you, Doctor.”

 “Good. Now run along to bed. You need your rest, and--”

 “I’m fine,” he insisted. “A bit weak, yes, but I’m wide awake.”

 “I see...” Silva finished bandaging the soldier’s arm. “Well, your injuries weren’t life-threatening, but nevertheless--”

 “Doctor, what did you mean by it being safer for me to stay here?” Euram suddenly asked.

 “Ah...well...the truth is, while you were out, you...received quite a few visitors.”

 “Visitors?” Euram was certain he’d had no fans at the castle.

 “Yes...they included your sister, Luserina, obviously...and Lord Wilde...and...well, other people who, let’s just say, wanted to confirm the news about you.”

 Euram understood. “You mean...people who hate me and the house of Barows for the crimes we committed, and wanted to make sure I had paid dearly.”

 Silva looked at Euram sympathetically. “...Lordlake residents...yes,” she clarified. “To be honest, most of them were either more than satisfied, or else they thought not even you deserved that kind of treatment. But there is still a handful of residents who believe your suffering isn’t a fraction of what they had to endure for two whole years. And because of that, they...” She trailed off.

 Not that Euram could have received any more confirmation of the grudges against him, nor was he surprised by it, but it still made him feel terrible. “I see.”

 “I’m sorry.”

 “Don’t be. They have every right to hate me, even after everything, but...there’s something I’m confused about.” He studied Silva, quite certain of what he had suspected. “They say a woman doctor cared for the Lordlake residents for two long years. It was you, wasn’t it?” When Silva responded with a nod, Euram continued. “Well...I understand your oath to help the injured, witnessed firsthand the horrors and suffering of those people. Some say you were even openly hostile toward the Prince, who had nothing to do with the destruction of the town. why...treat me as if I were anything above total and absolute scum?”

 For some reason, Silva chuckled at this. “Is that what’s bothering you?” she asked. “Listen, young man. Yes, it’s true I expressed my anger and resentment toward His Highness, but I eventually realized that was wrong. And it isn’t just because he wasn’t personally responsible for Lordlake, but...after he brought the water back to the town, I realized something else. Because of who the Prince was, I had him pegged as a spoiled brat who probably did everything his mother told him to, someone who believed the suffering of people from a town miles away had nothing to do with him. Now, whether or not some of that was true, the fact that he had the guts to make the impossible happen made me believe in him. It made me believe...people can change, and for the better.” She turned back toward the soldier, collecting the old gauze and other refuse into a tray. She started to walk off with the tray in her hands, but stopped a few feet in front of Euram. “I’ll be honest...Euram. When the truth about the Lordlake uprising first came out, I did feel disgust toward your family. But after everything...I don’t. I don’t hate you, and I don’t bear any grudge against you. Having spoken to Luserina, I’m sure there’s...more to the story. Anyway, there’s something I need to take care of, but I’ll be back to check up on you in a little while. Please, try not to overexert yourself until then.”

 When Silva left, Euram took a closer look at his surroundings. So this is the castle infirmary, he thought. It was quiet, except for the faint sound of rushing water and the occasional brush of wind against the giant structure. Moonlight filled the room, making it easier to see the forms resting on the beds. The sick, the injured, the the ones in Lordlake...

 He took a walk around the room, perhaps out of curiosity, or even just a need to exercise. He wasn’t sure. Perhaps he just wanted the reality of the people’s suffering to sink in. Within a certain context, however, that was ridiculous. After all, he knew that none of the patients in that room had anything to do with his most shameful act.

 But I don’t want to run from that reality anymore. I...

 He stopped when he saw a rather familiar face. A teenage girl with short black hair and an angelic face rested peacefully, her bed next to the window. Lady Lyon...

 Euram knew her well...or at least, knew of her well. She was the bodyguard who never left the Prince’s side, at least, until that very duty left her with a near-fatal wound.

 She was devoted to the Prince, Euram thought sadly. She received those wounds honorably, while I...

 I stupidly provoked an attack on myself at the Sun Palace. And then, when that was over, I placed more concern with appearances than I did with what was really important--making amends. If I hadn’t been so busy prioritizing fashion over everything else, maybe those men wouldn’t have found me so quickly...and maybe I could’ve spoken to Luserina by now...instead of causing grief for her yet again...

 Euram turned away from Lyon, scanning the room for the other patients who, as Euram could plainly see, were all wounded soldiers. Soldiers who put their lives on the line for a just cause, and nearly died because of it. My death...could only be proof that one reaps what he sows.

 It was a depressing thought, one that led Euram back to the consoling space of his own bed. He drew the curtain, erasing the soldiers from his sight, and took a seat on the side of the bed.

 It doesn’t matter when it started. Those men--

 He saw it again, Riley shoving him back, nothing but hatred in his eyes.

 --they wanted--

 The silver blade gleaming as it pointed at Euram’s face, choosing him as its next target.

 --to kill me. They--

 The knife brutally slicing him across the back, Riley’s fist repeatedly slamming into his stomach.

 Euram shivered violently, crossing his hand over until it was gripping the opposite shoulder. He hadn’t realized just how scared he truly had been back then. He had been so focused on seeing his sister and the Prince, that he had managed to suppress the natural reaction. Not even when that focus was broken did he express that fear...

 “No,” Euram whimpered softly, bringing his head down.

 Riley and his men were still there, however. well as all those who suffered the Lordlake incident due to his rashness and incompetence.

 “Craven...coward...” Euram declared bitterly, the words clawing as they escaped his throat. The fist on his free hand tightened, fingernails digging into his flesh.

 I thought it had nothing to do with me, even though I’d directly aggravated the incident. I thought I could pay men to keep Norden quiet, and then hide behind my father’s coattails. But the fact is, they still suffered...all of them...Norden, Riley, Doctor Silva, and especially the Lordlake residents who had to live without water for two years, slowly dying in that scorched, withered desert...

 “So stupid,” he said quietly, his eyes stinging. “Of course it had everything to do with me. Why should I have been so surprised when it all caught up with me? They had every right to kill me. All that anger and sadness...”

 “My brothers got trampled on in that mess after you gave the order to scatter the mob... I had to explain to my mother why her two youngest sons weren’t coming home...”

 Euram had remembered the look in Riley’s eyes when he told his story, that look of grief, coupled with the burning desire for revenge. Euram had been familiar with that look. After all, he too had felt such things.

 “You’re the reason my father is dead!” His own words to Gizel echoed faintly in the back of his mind, already a distant memory.

 “They had every right,” Euram repeated, a tear rolling down his cheek. He crossed his other arm over his chest, but he only seemed to tremble harder. “Their much much, was...” More tears followed, provoking belated emotional release.

 It was all my fault...! Euram screamed inside his head. Something in his chest tightened, and he wept quietly, occasionally stifling a sob that might have disturbed the others’ sleep. In the past, he might have feigned such emotions for the sake of appearing weak, but this time, he had real reasons, all of which overwhelmed him. He no longer knew who he was, only what his lack of identity had caused. He’d been labeled as many things, but...

 He lifted his head, gasping. I don’t...I don’t want to be those things anymore.

 Euram brought a hand up, drying his tear-soaked cheeks. “Ugh...” He then took control, cutting his ties to all the guilt and shame. “ more...” The pain in his heart seemed to fade, as did all the taunts that had been directed at him over the years. “I...”

 “I want to be something better...”


 The next morning started as any other, that is, until...

 “What do you mean, have I seen him?” Luserina asked, horrified by the question. She, Boz Wilde, the doctors, as well as the Prince, Kyle, Georg, Galleon, and Miakis, were gathered in the infirmary, though the latter five were by Lyon’s bedside. “Of course I haven’t! I got up early this morning, expecting to see my brother, only to find out he isn’t even here? What’s going on? Did...did something else happen...?”

 “No, he’s all right,” Silva assured her. “At least, the last time I checked up on him, he was. He finally awoke a couple of hours after midnight, and he was a little weak, but otherwise okay.”

 This at least gave Luserina some comfort. “So...he’s okay, but...why isn’t he here?”

 “That’s just it. We don’t know. Murad and I were out of the room for ten minutes, and he was gone. I specifically asked him to not leave the room, but...”

 “It’s not your fault, Doctor,” the girl said. “That’s just how my brother is. Rather, he’s developed those kinds of habits. I just...worry...”

 “Come on, Luserina,” Boz said. “You don’t know that anything bad has happened. He could just be taking a walk. You know, stretching his legs and all that.”

 “I hope so. I just hope he isn’t walking anywhere near the Lordlake residents. I just think, he could be in a terrible confrontation. He could be lost, or upsetting someone, or...” She trailed off.

 “Or...he could just be getting a bite to eat,” suggested the familiar voice, which was followed by the sound of the door shutting.

 Everyone in the room looked to see Euram standing there. He was dressed in the brown cloak, hood down, a bashful but genuinely friendly look on his face.

 “H...hello...everyone,” he greeted them.

 Euram?!” Luserina cried in shock, as though she were seeing his injured form for the first time.

 “What happened to you?” Silva demanded.

 “Err...” Euram shrank back slightly, as though he were regretting his morning trip. “Nothing. I was just hungry. I...apologize if I caused you to worry. That was not my intention.”


 Euram looked at the girl who had spoken his name. “Luserina...I...”

 Luserina pushed past Silva and Murad and approached Euram, but kept several feet of distance between them. “Brother...who...who did this to you? I’ll bring them to justice--”

 “Justice?” Euram repeated, then shook his head. “On the contrary, Luserina. What happened to me...that was justice. Justice for all my reprehensible acts.”

 Luserina’s eyes were filled with tears. “How can you say that? How is it justice to treat anyone that way?”

 “Sister...I’m well aware of the consequences of my actions, past and present. Countless people have suffered due to my gross incompetence and cowardice. I know a simple apology will not suffice. And yes, you do have a point. To raise a weapon against someone alone won’t bring justice.” He lowered his gaze to the floor. “I...I know that all too well.”


 “What I’m trying to say is that people had their reasons to target me. I’d made a fool of myself. After Father’s death, I charged into the Sun Palace in the blind hope that I could take revenge...” He saw both the Prince’s and Miakis’ faces fill with alarm. “...on Gizel Godwin,” he assured them. “But...just when I tried to attack him, one of his guards stopped me. He shot me in the leg with a bolt, and then they tried to throw me in the dungeon. It was because of the Queen I was allowed to that, I am grateful. It was...also Her Majesty who taught me that revenge...wasn’t the answer...”

 “Well, of course if Lym said it, he’d listen,” Kyle quipped, but grunted as Miakis elbowed him in the side.

 Silva nodded. “Okay. That explains that first wound. How did you get all the others?”

 Everyone stared attentively at Euram, eager to hear the tale.

 “Ah...well...after I left Sol-Falena, I came to Yashuna Village. Along the way, I’d decided to pay a visit to this castle, but I didn’t want to come as...well...” He blushed. “I no longer cared to wear a dishonest man’s clothes.”

 “You wanted some new threads,” Kyle said.

 “Exactly. But...the moment I’d docked in Yashuna, someone had spotted me, and followed me to the tailor’s shop. There were three men...all of which had been under my command during...during the...” He spoke the next words with difficulty. “...the Lordlake incident. When they confronted me, I found out that the damage in that incident was not limited to Lordlake alone. There were also Barows troops who died...comrades and brothers of those men. And yes...they did the rest, the cuts, the bruises, the broken nose...but I don’t blame them. It was a wake-up call. Even if I had had no malicious intent, terrible things still happened, and incompetence is no excuse. I am fully prepared to accept the consequences of my actions as they apply to me. I won’t run away anymore. I’m...tired of running away.”

 For the longest time, no one said anything. It was making Euram uncomfortable, until...

 “All right,” Georg said, folding his arms. “Who are you, and what have you done with Euram Barows?”

 Euram chuckled softly. “Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of time to think.”

 Georg nodded. “Thinking’s good.”

 “Euram,” Luserina said.

 Euram faced his sister again. Luserina...thank you...for being an outstanding example to the house of Barows, even when Father and I were little more than an absolute disgrace. I was always proud of you, even when you joined the Prince. I...must apologize for all the grief I have likely caused you. For every time you felt the need to apologize for my crimes, I apologize to you. I only hope to follow your example, so that, one day, you too might be proud of me...”

 “Brother...” Luserina ran up to Euram, throwing her arms around him. “I’m already proud,” she said happily as tears slid down her face. “Thank you for stepping forward...”

 “Thank you for accepting me.”

 Luserina stepped back, offering him a smile as she wiped away her tears.

 Euram returned the smile, and then turned his gaze to the Prince. “Your Highness,” he began, “I...don’t even know where to begin apologizing. You showed me nothing but kindness, which I repaid by blaming you for the fall of the house of Barows. I endangered your life so many times, and turned the citizens of a town against you. My crimes are heavy and unpardonable, so I understand if you have reserved for me a most severe punishment. All I ask is for the chance to make it up to you. I don’t deserve your mercy after everything that’s happened, but I hope to one day prove I am worthy of it.” He bowed his head. “Prince...I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the trouble I have caused you...or any of your allies.”

 “Hmmmm...” Kyle put a hand on his chin, as though he were in deep thought. “I dunno...after everything he’s done? What do you think, Miakis? You think he’s being sincere?”

 “Hmm, well...” There was a mischievous smile on the female knight’s face. “He sure sounds like it. But then, I heard he used lies to lure the Prince to Haud Village. Who’s to say this isn’t any different?”

 “What do you think, Georg?” Kyle asked.

 “Seems like a solid apology,” Georg responded. “Besides, I’m sure Luserina will be there to keep an eye on him.”

 Hmph.” Kyle turned to the oldest knight in the group. “Galleon?”

 “I think it is up to His Highness to decide,” Galleon told him.

 Kyle backed off then, though he seemed disappointed. “Yeah...guess you’re right.”

 “Well, I think he’s sincere,” Freyjadour said. “It isn’t just in his words. His face is different from the last time I saw him. I think he really wants to be a good person.”

 “Y-Your Highness,” Euram stammered.

 “I don’t like to dwell on the past,” Freyjadour continued. “I think everyone involved in this war has suffered their share of losses. I wasn’t planning on dealing any punishments, but if you promise to help end the war, and not perform any other shady activity, I’m sure I can overlook a thing or two.”

 Euram sighed in relief. “Thank you...Your Highness. Thank you...”


 After the Prince and the Queen’s Knights had finished their visit with Lyon and left, Euram had returned to his bed to rest, with Luserina sitting next to him.

 “Do you...realize it’s been eight years since you’ve spoken openly with me?” Luserina asked. “Ever since that night...”

 “...that our brother was killed,” Euram finished for her. “Yes. It was around that time that Mother refused to see anyone, shutting herself away in her bedroom. I...didn’t realize it at the time, but that was when I’d started changing.”

 Luserina lowered her gaze sadly. “Yes...”

 “I couldn’t...stand to see her like that. I thought...that acting weak and needy, she would feel compelled to step out of that room,’s apparent that plan has backfired.”

 “Oh, Brother...” Luserina reached out, touching the young man’s hand. “So all those years, you hid yourself away for Mother’s sake. is she?”

 “The same. The servants are tending to her, as always.” He let out a sigh. “We should...probably change that, or take a more active role, or...”

 “Yes, I agree. But first...there is still much to be done to end the war. Don’t forget, Prince Freyjadour will be calling on you.”

 “And I fully expect him to,” Euram said, though his stomach was in knots. “Er...” He looked at his sister nervously. “Do you think I’m capable of taking on the tasks he’ll assign me?”

 She responded with a smile, giving his hand a squeeze.

All That Glitters Is Cold 4 Fanfic Competition

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