22. The Ant that Crawled Over Me

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The Beginning

It was not over. I was finished - so completely that there was nothing left of me - but it was not over.

Hakan led me, my face ashen, to the Throne Room to face my father. Not all of the Ashbahi were dead yet. That included me.

I did not know why I was still afraid - I did not care much anymore what happened to me - but I was.

My decision had been made and the Ashbahis were sacrificed - I had nothing else left to give. If I lived, I would still be the son of a traitor, with no real place in the palace or with our people. My time over the last day spent wandering around the palace proved that - and perhaps my father proved that to me intentionally. I was only half-Pasargadaen and the other half, if it traced back to the Ashbahi's ancestor, Yunnisian. A Yunnisian could never have any real place in a Pasargadae palace. And even those more empathetic who could look past my lineage would still see a boy who knowingly turned his family in to burn. They would see a boy who smiled as his mother burnt, even when he did not.

And then. I just couldn't stop seeing it, the fire. It danced around in my vision, even when my eyes were closed. It had surprised me - how quickly the tenses changed in my mind. 'My mother is' to 'my mother was'. I never had to think about it - it was just reality, as though it had the case. But I kept on replaying every conversation, every interaction, every microexpression she made in my mind, calculating how much time she had left for each. Two years, four months, a day.

A moment.

And then. Her expression as she died, they look in her eyes right before she burnt. I never stopped wondering what was behind it.

So. I did not know why I was still afraid. Only that I was.

Hakan was twenty then, thin and lanky - too lanky for somebody of his status - and my eldest brother remaining at the Southern Imperial Palace. I'd never paid him much attention - he was often busy on assignment from my father, and when he was around, he was intensely private and quiet, never one to start a conversation and always one to finish one. His energy was quiet, too, the still waters of a world that knew no atmosphere. I'd always liked him for it.

He walked in front of me with his bony shoulders pushed back, his step toe-heal like always. Family matters such as this one required familial escorts instead of guards. Hakan did not escort like a guard. Guards walked behind the person so they could watch them, so the person could not try something or get away. Hakan did not need to watch - he was confident enough that I could not get away.

"You are quiet." Hakan started a conversation.

I was quiet.

"I would advise against it." 

"I can't control it." My voice was foreign-sounding, even to me. Had I developed an Ashbahi accent? Or was it an accent of my own?

"Your energy, or the lack thereof?"

I was quiet.

Hakan was quiet.

Our footsteps echoed.

I kept staring forward. It was like I could not look at anything anymore - only through them. The sunlight was everywhere, beating down, illuminating. It was like I was futility searching for its end. The throne room door rose higher than seven of Hakan, golden and heavy and elegantly carved. It was a door designed for Ihirtoii - without him, it could have never existed. I stared through it. Hakan stopped several midpaces before it.

"It will be okay, Min."

It was an old nickname, Min. My mother did not use it, and I had not heard it in months. I used to hate its informality. But something in me cracked a little upon hearing it.

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