Chapter 33 : Sacrifice
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Chapter 32 - Sacrifice
The rattling of metal and steady rock of his seat woke him to the confines of a small room. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he looked to find his friends fast asleep around him on seats lined with plush cushions, their heads and bodies leaning against the walls of wood and metal and away from him and each other. As he turned to the window just to his left, he viewed the passing scenery in the light of bright moon and realized instantly where he was. Suffering a near-splitting headache and disoriented, he got up and made for the door. He left the compartment and trudge through the narrow corridor with one hand on the wall for support and the other on his head to attempt to steady it. There were a handful of people moving about the same corridor, but they paid him no mind, as he paid them none. He knew bathroom was only a short distance away now, and he relished in the thought of washing away the haze that seemed to have settled on him. However, before he could reach out for the door just a few more paces away, his keen ears caught a soft melody in the soft breeze from beyond the windows. Without knowing why, his body turned and his feet moved to follow the distant sound while his ears strained to catch snatches of it from the breeze.
It was inexplicable why his headache was slowly ebbing away the longer he listened to the soft tune. It was sweet and soothing, with just the slightest hint of melancholy. But most of all, it was enthralling. And someone was humming it. Captivated so, he followed it, in search of its source.
The wordless song brought him out to the platforms, where two of the many train cars connected, and up a ladder to the rooftop of the car he recently exited. His eyes beheld what he believed to be an otherworldly being. Sitting at the edge of the roof carelessly at its edge was a young boy no older than him. He seemed to be glowing against the dark backdrop that was the evening sky, and he was the source of the strange yet calming hum. Dark hair shorter than even his gleamed in the soft moonlight as the snow-white skin shone to create the mysterious glow about him.
As if hearing his silent movements, the boy turned to look at the intruder of his solitude. And looking back into the glazed stare of the ethereal boy, he felt a powerful draw that threw him into a dark abyss, seemingly filled with the knowledge of the whole world. The gaze that held him was both eerie and enthralling, holding him prisoner in a void of chaos. But soon, he was hurled out again with a powerful push. As the darkness dispersed to reveal the dark skies once more, he found himself alone on the rooftop— the unearthly boy gone as if he were no more than a dream.
And a dream it was, for when he blinked, Sirius Black opened his eyes again to the darkness of the bedroom provided for him for his stay at the palace.
After so many years, he finally remembered the first time he had met her. Back then, he had thought he’d seen a boy. It was when she still dressed and looked like one. It was their first train ride to Hogwarts. She had done something to him, for he recalled nothing of it when he climbed back down the ladder and walked back to his compartment. Whatever had been done to break her memory suppressing spell seemed to have broken the one placed after their first meet, too.
Sitting up, he groggily wiped his face with a hand and turned to look at the moonlit skies beyond the large windows. He pushed away the silks and got off the large bed where he laid. Quietly, he removed himself from the stifling warmth of the room and out to the cool air of the small balcony just outside. He grabbed the rail and leaned his whole weight onto it, looking out at the twin moons of Naramyu.
The serenity of the night did nothing to ease his mind or his heart. Releasing a sigh, he let go of the rails and turned himself away from the scenery. He submitted to the gravity and let his body fall to sit upon the marble floor. Sirius reached into the pocket of his long pants and pulled out a long chain from it. Holding the shiny metal in front of him, he gazed sadly at the pendant which hung from it. Though seemingly made of silver, it turned gold in the soft moonlight, more beautiful than almost anything he’d ever seen. A small flower.
The Empress’s Blossom... he recalled wistfully.
“Why are you so riled about one bloody pendant? Just get another one,” he asked with a raised brow as lifting his eyes from the sludge of wet earth that surrounded them to look at her. “Is it some rare magical item?”
“It’s important to me, that’s all.”
She gave him an annoyed look before returning to digging through the mud with her bare hands. “Will you just shut up and look?”
He stood up defiantly and placed his clean hands on his hips. “Hello? I’m helping here. Would it kill you to be a little nicer to me?”
She paused to give him a look of incredulity. “I’m sorry,” she spoke in a sarcastic tone, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you the one who lost it in the first place? Now start looking.”
He huffed at her and bent back down to the ground. Rolling his sleeves, he plunged both hands into the wet muck and began raking through it. Satisfied, she turned back to where she was also ploughing for her missing necklace and pendant.
“It’s nearly midnight. Can’t we just look in the morning when there’s some light?”
“There’s enough light from the moon. Just shut up and look,” she ordered gruffly.
“Demon spawn...” he grumbled.
“Nitwit,” she mumbled back.
That’s when he felt the impact of a ball of slush against the back of his head. Sirius turned slowly to face Réatra’s look of challenge. There was a small, wicked smirk on her lips.
“Oh, you’ve done it now, you evil little demon.”
Before she could retort, a ball of mud made contact with the top of her chest. She looked down at what was once her clean white shirt and opened her mouth in speechless disbelief. Réatra quickly looked up to give him a deadly glare, though he was unperturbed by it. Instead, an impish smile of victory graced the handsome face, but that was soon wiped off with a handful of mud from her.
“That’s it,” he declared calmly.
War erupted. Mud balls were flying in all directions, plenty making their mark, as both were excellent aimers. It would have also gone on forever if Sirius hadn’t uncharacteristically yelped in pain upon falling back onto the muddy ground.
“What in bloody hell was that?” he exclaimed as he lifted his right hand to examine where the throbbing he felt came from.
His whole finger was of a disturbing dark shade and swollen to twice its original size. It looked like something poisonous had bitten his finger, but there was no trace of a bite or sting wound. He’d never seen anything like it, and he didn’t know whether to be morbidly amused by the sight or panicked over the unusual consequence.
“Looks like a Green Lady’s bite,” his battle enemy remarked with a mixture of wonder and worry.
“A Green Lady centipede. They live in the mud, but they’re really rare. I didn’t think there’d be one in Hogwarts, considering they’re only seen in Africa.”
“That still doesn’t solve why my finger is swollen, black, and feeling like it’s on fire.”
“Well, green, actually, but I guess we can’t really tell right now, since it’s a bit dark to see. A Green Lady’s bite is extremely poisonous, you know. Your finger is going to rot off in about an hour,” she told him as-a-matter-of-factly.
“What?” He exclaimed with evident alarm. “Then what am I supposed to do?”
Without a word, she pulled a small box out of her pocket, and from it, a long thin needle. It gleamed maliciously in the moonlight. Holding the sharp thing in front of him, she told him in an impassive voice, “The venom sealed the wound immediately after she bit you. The poison will go away if you bleed.”
“What? No! I’m not letting you near me with that thing!” he protested, holding his green finger away from her. “And why in bloody blazes are you carrying a box of needle around with you?”
“Never mind why. Just give me your finger. You’re not going to die from a small prick,” she shot back at him as she waded closer to him with the threatening pointy needle.
“No! Get that thing away from me!” he objected and crawled backwards, while his left hand kept a hold on his right finger, as if to protect it from her and her sharp needle.
“If you don’t let me prick it, it’s going to rot right off your hand,” she argued.
He shook his head stubbornly, stilling slowly kicking himself away from her. She pounced. He evaded just in time as her free hand nearly grasped his right wrist. He struggled, but with the heavy mud holding him down and her full weight on top of him, it was hard to escape. After minutes of thrashing about in the mud, she finally got hold of his hand, but still he resisted, taking hold of the hand that held the needle and keeping it away from his captured hand.
“Stop resisting, you big baby,” she grumbled as she fought him with equal strength if not more.
The sound made them both stop and look up. Dorcas was standing before them with a raised brow and a questioning look upon her visage.
“Sirius,” she stopped him before he could utter another word, “ I’m not going to ask what’s going on between the two of you, but may I at least know why you two are wrestling around in the mud?”
“We— we were looking for her pendant when I— YEEOWWW!” he ended with a howl.
He turned to glare the perpetrator, who only gave him an un-amused look as she held his right hand for him to behold the reduced swelling and gradual return from green to his skin colour. Letting go of the hand, she placed the muddy needle back in its box and the box back into her pocket. Getting up, she turned to her brunette friend with a raised brow.
“Did you know your boyfriend is one big baby? He’d rather have his finger rot than get pricked by a stupid little needle.”
Sirius huffed at her and grumbled something incoherent. Dorcas laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said between chortles.
Sirius’s low grouse ended abruptly. The left hand that was partially submerged in mud surfaced, bringing with it a mud-covered golden flower that hung from an equally muddy chain.
“Found it,” he remarked dryly.
Instead of a look of relief at the find, however, Réatra’s features bore the appearance of forlorn. She smiled at him, yet he knew it was a smile filled with sorrow, though she tried to mask it with gratitude. Dorcas seemed to notice none of it, but he did.
The memory brought him both smile and frown. He smiled at the brawl they had in the mud, but frowned at the look across her face when he had finally found the pendant she had so anxiously searched for. He had wondered all the while why something she supposedly treasured seemed to bring so much wretchedness to her. The puzzled remained unsolved until his recent talk with Toma.
They had chanced upon each other at one of the many gardens from sleeplessness on both sides. Sirius had known what had kept the tall and dark man awake. It was earlier that day that he had unintentionally played witness to how the grown man accepted in defeat a cold dismissal by someone much younger and seemingly of lower status than him. Toma had demanded to see the Empress, but his ardent request was offhandedly denied. Again, Sirius had not seen what victims of Sei’ra’s unsmiling face had seen, but he had felt it to be enough to frighten the living daylights out of the bravest of men. Though the older man had shown no signs of being severely affected by it as the Head of Healers had many days prior, his ardour had appeared to completely vanish, replaced by only grudging compliance. When he had discovered Sirius after the boy had left him, he had guided him to a quiet place to talk.
Without saying much, he asked his company to hold out his hand. Here he unfurled Sirius’s loose fist and placed a cold object within his palm. Sirius looked with some amount of surprise at the delicate looking, silver flower now in his grasp. It glinted, and as he held it up against the soft moonlight, it it turned gold. He recognized it. He would recognize it anywhere. Even the broken petal he had caused by accident those many years ago was still there.
“The Empress’s Blossom. It is the royal blossom of Naramyu,” Toma explained. “Eons ago, the first ever High Empress had made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our world. The Emperor, her husband, who grew to love her despite all forbiddance, had this blossom to honour her sacrifice. It’s a rare and beautiful white flower that only blooms in the light of the moon, but when it does, it turns gold. This one in your hand is a replica, made of the rarest metal. It is passed on from Empress to Empress— to remind them that theirs is a path of duty and sacrifice. The previous Empress had given this pendant to Réatra— even before she was chosen... Perhaps she had foreseen it.”
Sirius stared at the metallic flower in the palm of his hand and finally understood why the sorrowful smile had crossed her face that day many years ago.
“It was also a reminder of how much she’d already endured and how much more she must do so. It must have been painful to look at, yet she’d never let it out of her sight even once. But... when she permanently erased herself from your lives, she threw it away.
“She cried, Sirius. I’ve only ever seen her cry twice. The first was when she learned of her father’s death. And the last was when she left you.” Toma gave him a small sad smile. “She really did love you... more than you can imagine.”
Sirius couldn’t return the smile.
“She cried the whole night. And when the tears finally stopped, she threw it away. Perhaps, when she did so, the last of her heart went along with it. It became even worse after Aka’s death. She completely changed— changed to what she’s now become. Reclusive... Cold...”
Dangling the chain and pendant from his fingers, Sirius gazed upon the shiny metal in deep thought. She had never said the words to him before, but he had felt it deep in heart that she felt for him what he felt for her. She had tried to lessen his pain by making him forget, but his heart and body refused to do so. She had tried to lessen his pain, while she, herself, suffered alone.
“Why is life so cruel to you?” he whispered to the soft breezes.
Another memory came flooding back upon his question. It was one of a time before his revelation of his heart’s attachment to her. It was well before he had begun his relationship with Dorcas.
“Why are you up a tree again?” he asked once he reached the branch she was at.
She only turned to look down at him with a stoic expression. Ignoring the question, she turned back to stare at the dark skies. He followed her gaze to the starless night. There was no moon tonight and all but her was pitch-black. She was faintly glowing, like when he had found her several months back at her mansion. And although barely audible, she was humming a soft melody.
“If anyone sees you like this they’d think you’re a ghost,” he told her dryly. “Did some spell on a firefly go wrong or something?”
She stopped humming and sighed. The glow off her skin gradually dulled and faded away until all was dark again. When his eyes finally adjusted to the loss of light, he found her huddled against the body of the tall tree, arms wrapped protectively around her stomach and her brow resting upon her knees, her eyes closed. Wordlessly, he hoisted himself up and settled in front of her on that same thick branch. He watched her silently with some mixture of curiosity and worry.
“Can you just leave me alone?” she asked irately.
Sirius grunted, but didn’t reply. Instead, he made to leave. He dropped both legs to one side of the branch and was ready to lower himself down to another, but stopped when he found her hand grabbing at his long sleeve.
“No...” she uttered in a bare whisper, a small plea in her voice. “Stay.”
And so, he stayed. Once he returned to his previous position, she released her grasp and returned the hand to its place atop the other on around her stomach. She did not look up once while he continued to watch her in silence. He wondered at what she was thinking, but had no inkling as to what it was.
“Will you stop staring? It’s irritating and unnerving.”
“I didn’t know you could get unnerved,” he responded amusedly, but then added brusquely, “And didn’t you just ask me not to leave? So I stayed. Now what am I supposed to do?”
“Just stare at something else,” she muttered.
“If you haven’t noticed, there’s nothing else to stare at. It pitch-black and the only thing I can see right now is you.”
She was silent again. He sighed. All was quiet but for the rustle of leaves as the soft breezes blew by. She still didn’t look up, returned to watch her unmoving form. It was some time before she spoke again, and when she did, she caught him completely off guard.
“Do you think they’ll have kids?” she mumbled in question.
“James and Lily.”
“Oh,” he responded stupidly. “I don’t know. Probably. Why suddenly ask that?”
She didn’t reply, and somehow, he felt he shouldn’t pry either. Instead, he said, “I still don’t understand how it is you glow.”
That seemed to bring a small smile to her lips. “It’s healing magic.”
“What? The glowing?”
She looked up and shook her head. “When I’m evoking healing magic on myself, I’ll glow.”
“That’s kind’a bloody wicked, you know.”
She chuckled lightly. “It’s very weak, but it helps. It’s a Fae thing. My cousins can evoke more powerful healing songs. I can only hum them out in tunes.”
“Are you still recovering?” he asked gingerly, knowing well of the frightening wounds on her limbs and stomach.
She sighed aloud, but shook her head.”They’re already gone. There’s... something else I’m trying to heal.” And with a sad smile she added, “But it looks like I can’t heal it. No one can...”
Though it took him a while, he guessed what it was she was trying to have healed. He wanted to ask, but didn’t dare.
“I’m sure those two will have plenty of kids,” he told her kindly, “a dozen if they can.”
She smiled softly.
Sirius smiled at the poignant memory. He had only guessed that the wounds did more than temporarily hurt her, but when she smiled at his words, he instantly knew he had hit the mark. At the time, he pitied her. He remembered her once telling him jokingly that perhaps it was some horrid karma she had gained for doing some terrible things. He had light-heartedly agreed with her then, but deeply felt she didn’t deserve such a punishment for whatever wrong she did. Arta, too, agreed on the matter.
He had run into Arta the other day. The man had seemed tired and years older than he really was. Smiling kindly at Sirius, he had ushered him to his private office.
“I’m sorry I had to drag you here,” he apologised sincerely. “If I sit around outside for too long, one of the ministers are bound to think me free and dump more work for today.”
“Escaping duties?” Sirius asked with a raised brow.
Arta chuckled guiltily as he poured some golden liquid into two small glasses at one of the small stands by the walls. “Just for a few hours. I haven’t stopped working for a few days now, and I need some sort of a break,” he told him with a smile while he brought over to where Sirius sat on a chair the two glasses.
The weary looking man handed Sirius one glass and took a seat beside him. “Nectar,” he explained, “From Sheshalvarias.” When Sirius gave him a look of confusion, he added, “Empress’s Blossoms, they’re normally called. They’re unique breed of flowers. The original name is Sheshalvaria.”
Sirius looked at the liquid gold in his hands in thought, but said nothing that crossed his mind.
“Some say they were brought from lost world centuries ago. There’s no other flower that turns gold under any circumstances. Quite mysterious flowers, really. They have many medicinal properties that our healers are still researching. The nectar is poisonous, but after refining it, it becomes a sort of harmless energy drink.”
Sirius took a small sip. The liquid was sweet, but there was a bitter aftertaste left behind that was not at all unpleasant. It reminded him of her. It tasted like her scent, her breath.
“Like it?” Arta asked curiously. Sirius nodded, and the older man continued with a satisfied smile, “Not many people actually like the aftertaste, but personally, I think the bitterness keeps it from being too sickly sweet.”
“Bittersweet,” Sirius whispered in reply.
Arta nodded, and with a melancholic smile said, “It fits the name, though... Empress’s Blossom. The Empress supposed to be loving, kind, and caring even when hers is a bitter life. I think it suits her, too.”
Here Sirius looked up at the man with interest.
“People think she’s lost all the sweetness, and only the bitterness remains. Though I don’t get much of a say anymore in this, I really do disagree with that. She’s lost a lot of things, but not this. Everything she does, she does with consideration for others, even if she doesn’t show it. And it is not because of duty, because she can do them just as well without having to consider anyone’s feelings in the process. As Empress, she has a duty to protect this land, but that doesn’t mean she has to jump into nearly every single battle herself. The moment news travels to her of even a single death, she will go there to fight with the soldiers. She knows the pain of losing someone, and she doesn’t want anyone to feel that. That’s why she fights... even if she’ll be miserable from the wounds later. She works even harder than me when it comes to improving life for our people. Even if that’s not really true and just a fancy of mine, the fact that she raised and cared for my boys when I, as their father couldn’t, is enough for me to know she is still loving, kind, and caring, despite all appearances.
“And for all she’s done for me, the best I can repay her is to take as much her share of this workload from her as possible,” he motioned to the stacks of paper lying everywhere.
They were quiet for a moment, each to their own thoughts. Arta downed the last of his glass and discarded it on one of the nearby stands.
“You know about Kelelf, don’t you?” he asked after a while.
Sirius’s grip on his glass tightened at the hated name.
“I don’t know if she told you, but he was the one who caused those wounds on her those many years ago. You must have noticed her odd reaction to physical contact by any male that December.”
Sirius only wordlessly nodded.
“Those wound’s didn’t kill her, but did more than just hurt her. Perhaps taking in my boys and the girls was some sort of make up for her inability to have children of her own. She knew from the start that she wouldn’t have children, not with her duties, regardless of whether she was chosen Empress... But to have the choice taken from her like that...”
“I knew... She never said it out loud, but I knew,” Sirius finally spoke. “When Sei’ra called her ‘mother’, I had thought for a second there that maybe someone had managed to heal her. Honestly, it kind of made me happy and crushed at the same time.”
Arta smiled an apology. “I’m sorry. I’ve managed to lift the ban on marriage for Court members and the requirement for the Emperor and Empress to wed, but Réatra and I are already married. Because of who we are, we can’t exactly get a divorce.”
He smiled softly at the sleeping figure, as he tenderly stroked the head atop his lap. A pain filled whine emitted from the frail being at his touch. Gently, he brushed the dark feathers that crowned its head with the back of his hand.
“Se-i... re-i...” came a croaky cry, the words breaking as it struggled to speak.
“Shh...” he whispered, “Sleep, mother, sleep. Sei’rei is not here.”
“Se-i... ra-a?” it questioned.
“Yes, mother,” the boy answered quietly. “Now, go back to sleep. I can’t inject the poison if you’re awake.”
She opened her eyes to stare at him pleadingly. “Ple...ease... no-o... m-ore...”
“Shh... mother,” he hushed, as his hand pressed gently upon her brow. “Just sleep.”
She was quiet again for a while, the silence only broken by her moans of pain. Her eyes were once again shut tight as she endured the fire that seemed to spread along every inch of her veins. She didn’t want him near, yet felt grateful for the cool of his touch against her burning skin.
“H-e will ne-e...ver for...g-ive y-ou... i-if h-e f-ind-s o-ut...,” she told him in warning.
“If he finds out,” he echoed. “I’ve kept him away from you for a reason. I can’t have him opposing me just yet... not until everything is done, and I can’t have you telling him about the covenant with Risteard, either.”
When she didn’t answer for a long time, he mentioned quietly, “Kelelf is alive.”
Her golden eyes widened in shock, and her lips trembled to speak, but naught came from them.
“In fact,” he continued conversationally, “I met him just the other day... He offered me a very good deal. Immunity from him for me... in exchange for you... Furious is very light compared to what he currently feels for you. I also get the feeling there’s more to it than that. I feel he genuinely loves you... in a twisted sense.
“I gladly accepted his deal. After all, I need his trust to do what I must for my goal,” he informed her offhandedly, as he continued to caress her head. “Of course... I can’t let him really have you, can I, Your Majesty? We need you for something else... Now, sleep, mother. It wont' be long until this body's suffering ends.”
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