“Oh, sweet little hungry baby… Tell me that this is my end…”
Adira couldn’t feel the baby chomping at her swollen belly. Her body was long dead but her soul still sat in the corpse, forced to roam the earth with no purpose.
Her eyes couldn’t move to face him, but she could hear her king sobbing.
The boy, the man, she had fallen in love with was no more of a coward than the people they murdered on their wedding day. Had she had known this was to be her end, she would have pulled the fetus from the womb herself.
“Sweet little hungry baby… I have a wish.“
The baby sat in her guts, staring at Queen Adira’s dead face as it ate her entrails.
“If you would be so kind as to take me with you. If this man wishes to know power, he must first learn to take it from me. I refuse to die like this. If he wants to know power, he must kill me with his own hands.“
The baby wiped its mouth with the back of its hand, smearing more blood and gore around than wiping it away. It crawled up to the Queen Adira’s face, placing its tiny hands on the side of her face, staring down in the lifeless purple eyes. The baby opened its mouth, placing it against the Queen’s and sucking whatever life remained. Queen Adira’s head shriveled, the skin pulling against her skull before stretching itself so thin, it tore. The skull itself started to crumble into dust. The jelly that was her brain dried up, the pink-grey matter shrinking until he barely existed. The baby pulled its face back, its black eyes turning purple before turning black once more.
“Thank you… I will make your growth worthwhile.“
The Imperial Bride had stayed with the monks at the behest of Queen Adira that lived inside them. They helped them deliver food to the poor, dressed the street children who had no guardian to care for them, and they were still too young to enter the temple. The Imperial Bride never felt anything like this before. A sense of some sort of purpose outside of doing His Majesty’s bidding.
“Never again. Call him who he is. Arman Reiner. Say his name, don’t let yourself fall that facade.”
The monks let them move about the temple freely, greeting them and praying over the body they called Death. The Imperial Bride felt unworthy, Queen Adira eased that feeling.
“We are both awful beings wandering this plane of existence. They pray to you because Death is a certainty. You are a reminder that they walk among you at all times, even when you aren’t visible.“
That didn’t make the Bride feel any better. To be some sort of amazing being that brings destruction and sadness isn’t worth praying for.
The Imperial Bride watched the rain from the window. For three months, it never really let up, only having three days total of “dryness” a month. During those three days, a mass rush to leave and enter the city to move product, receive families from the silver mines three days away. It was considered a normal wet season. The Bride found it depressing. So, they watched the monks from their window, Queen Adira humming softly in their mind.
Queen Adira was silent before His Maj– Arman threw the Bride from the window. As the Bride tried to stay conscious, her voice was loudest among them all. When the Bride had visited the void, it was Queen Adira’s voice to greet them. It was Queen Adira lending her rage to them to keep them alive as the monks worked on their body.
She stormed through the stone hallways, the cool stone feeling good on her burning feet. They had been bathing her all night in boiling hot water, scrubbing her body raw with iron wool. She ignored the gasps and exclamations of the lords and ladies that roamed the halls. Her air bellowed behind her like an oversized shadow, her raw, naked skin cracked and bleeding, leaving small droplets of blood on the floor. She continued to walk through the halls, shoving a dagger she had in her hand in the eyeballs of the singular guards that walked the halls, causing even more of a to-do from the “innocent” lords and ladies.
“YOU TALK OF HONOR AND DUTY, YET YOU’D RATHER DESTROY YOUR CHILDREN TO ACHIEVE A STANDARD THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE,” she bellowed as she entered the main hall.
Arman stood at the foot of the dais of gold and crimson, his back turn towards her. His father, the king, stood up from his seat, bushy salt and grey beard burned pink the hair.
“What is the meanin–“
“YOU TALK OF DUTY AS IF YOUR DUTY WASN’T TO MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN WERE DECENT PEOPLE. NOW YOU SOIL OUR INNOCENCE WITH YOUR OWN INSECURITIES AND SHORTCOMINGS.”
Their caretaker slowly walked into the mail hall, clutching their abdomen, trying to keep their intestine from falling on the floor. The King was horrified.
“IT IS LOVE THAT HAS BROUGHT THIS JOINING TOGETHER. IT IS LOVE THAT HAS SAVED YOUR SOULS FROM DAMNATION. IT IS LOVE THAT THE GODS HAVE BESTOWED UPON US AND YOU SPIT IN THEIR FACES BY RUBBING A SIN THAT NEVER EXISTED INTO MY SKIN ONLY TO SCRUB IT OUT.”
Adria held the knife up to their head, holding it against the coif of hair they had spent so many years growing and loving.
“YOU SPEAK OF SIN WHILE DENYING THE GODS. IF OUR JOINING WAS MEANT TO BE, THE LOVE OF MY LIFE WILL WATCH ME REMOVE MY HAIR, THE CROWN JEWEL OF MY KINGDOM. IF THIS JOINING IS A FARCE, HE WILL KEEP HIS EYES TURNED AWAY, SINCE HE’D RATHER SERVE DUTY THAN THE HEAVENS THEMSELVES.”
The caretaker started to scream as Adira started to drag the bloody dagger through her hair. Arman turned around but his father grabbed two candles from his left and shoved them into Arman’s eyes. He howled in pain, falling to the floor. Adria stopped her hair cutting, her thick, wet hair falling onto the floor with a wet thud. She took a step towards Arman, but he pulled the sticks from his eyes, peeling the cooled wax from his eyes. The dark-blue ocean hues Adira had fallen in love with were now the color of a cloudy blue sky. She smiled, tears falling from her face as she watched the love sent to her from the heavens pounce onto his father and punch him repeatedly in the face until he was barely recognizable. The hall was quiet as the King whimpered. Arman walked to his Queen, his eyes red and puffy, touching her right cheek with his bandaged left hand.
“Let me help you, my Queen,” he whispered, taking the dagger from her hand and gently cutting her hair, being careful to not knick her head. He kissed the top of her head, told her he loved her and that he would see her again on their wedding day as his father’s guards and her caretaker’s horde collected them and locked them away for three months before their wedding.
The Bride would ask Queen Adira the details of the plan to murder their families in such a short amount of time, but then she remembered Arman’s contact after Palthory. The Bride would ask about her instead.
Bells went off in town.
The Bride cackled, getting up from their post at the window and leaving their room. The monks were already bowed at their feet as they passed, chanting “nath y’ral ro gatho” as they walked. The rain came down in warm sheets, the sign that summer was upon them and the dry season would start soon. The Imperial Bride took a deep breath, closing their dark eyes.
The exhale was long and angry, their purple eyes opening and looking at the plume of smoke coming from the farther side of town. She spread the Bride’s wings, the ugly, spindly things from before now covered in black feathers, two pairs sprouting from her back. She took a running start, enjoying the way these legs moved, the way the wind felt on her skin before taking to the skies with ease.
“SHOW YOURSELF, WORLD EATER,” His Majesty called out as he spat fire from his mouth, burning homes down.
“You’ve mistaken me for someone else,” she called back, her eyes fixated on the creature that used to be the man she loved. She saw how ugly and crooked he looked now, his features dripping off of a body that shouldn’t exist. The warped soul of the man she used to kill with.
He watched as the Imperial Bride flew into his field of vision before his face dropped.
“Adira…” was all he could say, as her silhouette he had grown to love stared at him against the setting sun.
“Oh, sweet little hungry baby… Tell me that this is my end…”