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.
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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The Ants that Carried UsFantasy
✵2019 Watty Winner! ✵ They say that the two things Shah Minos loves most are fire and spies, but what he actually loves most is order. Even if it is maintained through the brutal telepathic domination of his father, the Emperor. Even if his mother b...