Author's Note: So it's taken me quite some time but I have finally written the next chapter to my short story "The Price for Honour". I had dabbled a few ideas in my head, such as having the next part in Stefan's POV in order to humanise him, because let's face it, Kailì thinks Stefan is some sort of demon. In the end though, I thought we should stick to Kailì's POV since we're already emotionally invested in him.
This surprisingly only took me one night to write but I was up until 2AM so I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Please read and review :D
Here we go...
My knuckles were bone-white as I gripped the dagger. My hand gave off tremors of fear as I approached my father’s prone form. I had waited at the edges of darkness within his chambers. Prince Stefan’s Shadow Magick had been a big help but it had been a long while until the restless king had succumbed to sleep. It seemed fitting that his sheets were blood-red silks. Red and gold, colours of royalty.
I couldn’t believe what was expected of me— what I was planning to do. Would regicide truly help the people?
My father’s body turned towards me as though he could sense my presence. Fear spiked in my chest but he remained very much asleep.
Most people looked calm and serene in sleep. My father did not. The war had taken its toll on him and his usual scowl was plastered on his face, a sheen of sweat pouring from his forehead.
I raised the dagger and as I placed it above his throat I saw a flash of my own reflection—dark jade eyes stretched wide in bewilderment.
I still had one other choice left. It was not ideal, but I doubted anyone would particularly miss me. I was the Wúlì prince, after all. I could still do the honourable thing and embrace death.
My eyes flitted across the room. With the exception of the flickering candles by the bedside, the majority of it was bathed in shadows. For all I knew, Stefan might have been there watching me. Would he stop me before I took my own life?
Images of half burned corpses rushed through my mind. Glass eyes and gaping mouths; charred skin and impaled limbs. I could not allow this city to burn, but I would not be a traitor to my country.
I gasped as I plunged the dagger into my heart. I barely registered my father’s snort as a pain racked through my spine.
A few more moments passed but death did not come. The pain only intensified and my body shook violently. A dry cough erupted from me and I collapsed to my knees.
A loud clap echoed through the room, speeding in tempo as the sound neared. Then a roar burst through me as the dagger was forcibly removed from my chest.
“I didn’t think you had it in you, Wúlì.” The cold voice sounded vaguely impressed. “What an inspiring performance that was.”
“How… what?” I asked. I couldn’t understand why no blood stained my chest. Even as I traced the skin beneath my garments, I felt no wound. “Alive.”
“That remains to be seen,” Stefan answered.
As I rose my head I saw Stefan’s icy glare darken, his eyes blackening all over. When he blinked, the blackness disappeared but my fear did not. He had threatened to paint the walls with my blood once before. No one would be able to stop him from doing so now.
“Do you love your father?” he asked me.
“No,” I said. I rose to my feet and took a deep breath as I saw darkness encompassing nearly the entirety of my father’s bed. It taped over his mouth but his eyes saw the full horror of what occurred before him.
“But you would not kill him,” Stefan noted.
“Do you kill everyone you dislike?” I asked. It was unwise, but I was going to die anyway. What did I care for being careful now?
“You love your father. That makes you the ideal candidate to sacrifice him to my goddess.”
Ice formed in my veins. The prince wanted a blood sacrifice? He was truly more sickening than I had thought. A psychopath, or a warlord I could fathom— a religious zealot I could not.
“That dagger is not so plain as it seems, is it?” I asked.
“Of course not. I had feared you might wish to take matters into your own hands so I ensured that it would be capable of killing only one person— your king.”
My father attempted to break free of his bonds but he was nothing more than a helpless, writhing form. Consumed by Stefan’s darkness, even the king of a great nation was helpless to the demon prince.
“I won’t do it,” I said. “I may not be able to stop you from killing my father, but I won’t do it myself.” It might have made little difference to Stefan, but I would not taint my soul this way. Not for the first time, I wondered if he even had a soul.
“You truly have forced my hand,” he sighed. Then the darkness came for me.
The darkness crept up my feet and into my ears and eyes like acupuncturist needles. Why did the guards not hear my screams? My throat burned from it.
Stefan approached me when I stumbled to my knees, handing me the dagger once more. I took it without a second thought. In that moment I knew my will was not my own.
“The goddess does not require the sacrifice to be done willingly. The blood of a king will be purpose enough.”
“You… demon,” I said. But my voice was like broken glass.
Anger flashed across Stefan’s composed demeanour. Did the soulless care how others perceived them?
“This is the will of the goddess,” Stefan whispered. “This is the will of my queen.”
I was beside my father’s bed a minute later. I had tried to fight it but my willpower was quickly draining. So much darkness. So much pain. It engulfed me, and I radiated it.
The dagger was above my father’s throat once more and I gazed into his fearful dark eyes. I had seen so much emotion reflect from those eyes. Lust. Greed. Anger. I had never imagined such fear from such a man.
There was a time when hope emanated from them. There was a time when he thought I would be the next great king; one who would lead this nation to a Golden Era like none before. But that was before I was announced a Wúlì at my Interpretation Ceremony. I had spent nearly a whole year trying to get that hopeful gaze from him once more.
I would not let it end like this. I would not be immersed by the darkness.
A pressure built in my stomach and chest. I felt as though my heart would burst. Tears fell from my face as the dagger nipped my father’s throat.
A light breeze past through the room and a small relief came through my chest. But I continued struggling for my willpower. One clean swipe to the throat and my father would be gone forever. Another corpse to add to the many that had already perished to Yolanda’s madness.
A force tore through the room and I stumbled back and crashed to the floor. I threw the dagger away from me and it flew in an arc and swerved, miraculously hitting Stefan between the eyes. It was a shame that the dagger was cast to kill only one person.
He removed the dagger, a wince passing through his face.
“How?” he snapped. “How has a simpleton overcome my power?” Anger bled through into his words but he sounded more like a toddler having a tantrum than a demon.
A gust of wind brought me to my feet. Understanding came to me slowly but surely. The pressure in my chest had fully alleviated and with the windows shut firmly, it meant that this force could only have been brought on by one individual.
“I am many things, prince, but I am not a simpleton,” I spat. I raised my hands and hoped that the air around me would bend to my will. Wind tore through the darkness binding my father, ripping it like paper.
I turned to look at Stefan and he had visibly paled. No hint of a smile broke out on his face. It was two against one.
“The power of an Elemental Warrior, hidden within a Wúlì,” Stefan said. “The gods must be playing a new kind of game.”
“Your goddess does not favour you this day,” my father said. He was on his feet now, but Stefan paid no attention to him. His eyes scrutinised me with an intensity that still unnerved me. Just because the odds seemed to be in my favour did not mean he was powerless to stop us. Whatever these gifts were, I was still nothing more than a novice.
“This is nothing new,” Stefan intoned. “The goddess never favours me.”
The Terrahgonian prince unsheathed his sword and swung it towards us. Dark arcs of energy flew at us, hitting me straight in the chest. By the time I got to my feet, clutching to my chest, I saw my father fighting Stefan, sword on sword.
My father was sprite for his age, but the two seemed evenly matched. They parried and dodged each other well, as though it were a choreographed dance.
I allowed a gust of wind to blow into Stefan but he raised a wall of darkness that my winds were unable to penetrate. From this side I couldn’t see what was happening but it was not long before I heard my father grunt in pain and a heavy body collapse.
“Father!” I yelled.
The dark barrier came down and Stefan absorbed it into the sword. He was panting and his snow white hair was askew.
“I had hoped to avoid this,” he said. “But you have forced my hand.”
A silent scream wrenched through me. Darkness filled me but the pain did not subside. Surely my eyes would burst, or my heart would give out. I felt as though something was being torn from me.
“Do you feel that?” Stefan asked. “It’s the pain of your soul being undone. It is the agony of your very being becoming unmade.”
One final tug and I collapsed to my knees once more. Stefan chuckled.
“You belong on your knees now, Prince No More.”
I forced myself to raise my head and gasped in horror as I saw a being formed of shadows stood over me. It walked away and took the dagger Stefan offered it. I looked behind me and realised that my own shadow was indeed missing.
The shadow creature knelt beside my father’s slumped body.
“Away from me!” he yelled. It was futile, of course.
“In the name of Luna, the Triple goddess,” the shadow said. Its voice was my own, but somehow distorted. It seemed colder, deprived of any emotion. “I offer her this tribute as sacrifice.”
I forced myself to watch as the dagger neared my father’s throat so I would not forget this moment if I ever survived. A guttural choke came from my father’s throat as blood seeped from it.
“The goddess has accepted the sacrifice,” the shadow announced.
“Like a lamb to the slaughter,” Stefan stated. “Now the only loose end is the Wúlì.”
I had so little fight in me left that the word bore little offence. I was sapped of all strength and energy. What little hope I once had had now dwindled away.
“Kill me,” I whispered. My head fell to face the floor as though my neck could no longer hold its weight.
Footsteps approached me and I sensed Stefan kneel in front of me. A hand clasped my chin and raised it. I looked at Stefan straight in the eyes for but a moment before my gaze past through it.
“Yes, I can give you that. Would you like that?” He stroked my cheek with his thumb. “But death would be a comfort to you. I’m not certain you deserve it.”
“Please,” I cried out, grasping his cloak in my fist. “Mercy.”
“Yes, the goddess is known occasionally for her small mercies.” A thread of hope hung over me for a moment. “But my power comes from a crueller god. And with your power, you may yet prove of some use after all. You will live, my dear Wúlì, and you will live knowing the true extent of your failures. The death of your father. The massacre of this city. And the assassinations of all the noblemen and noblewomen of Kratul.” My body wracked into sobs before I was able to supress it. But I was a prince no more. What need for princely pride? “You have a life ahead of you filled with sweet pain. That is my mercy to you.”
Then he inhaled into my open mouth and darkness submerged me.