Ascension

**Winner of Replica writing Comp** In the city of Eto, the life of a noble is worth the live of ten commoners. In order to keep the world balanced, each time a noble comes of age at the age of 16, they select 10 commoners to kill.

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3. Raphael- 1

I like the rain. Not really a fitting thing for an aspect of fire to say, but I gave up on what’s fitting a long time ago. I tried, believe me. I tried. But I always failed. Eventually, I gave up. No one ever thought I could be perfect anyways.

I looked up at the sky, not minding the cold drops of water that fell on my skin like so many little freezing needles. I had always seen the rain as a kind of transcendence. In the cold, grey atmosphere, there was no noble. No commoner. Just individual souls of warmth in a sea of cold half-light.

Not that this train of thought would be supported by the nobles around me. Especially the ones around me. What would they say if they heard Raphael, crown prince of Eto, talking about equality?

My father would sternly warn me that I was already looked at strangely. He would tell me to avoid putting even a single toe out of line. My brother Aaron would give me the same disappointed talk he always did. Kezan would laugh, and tell me that those thoughts were ridiculous- nobles and commoners were born to be different. It was simply the order of the universe. But I had never believed that.

Here, standing in the rain, for once I was cold. I enjoyed the feeling. Just another thing that was ‘wrong’ about me. But inside the stone walls of my castle, dressed in the finery of one of the crown princes, I always felt hot, like I was burning from the inside. When I had become an aspect of fire, I had been assured that I would grow accustomed to the warmth. As of yet, it still felt uncomfortable. Foreign. Like an invasion within my own skin. A curse of flames, disguised as a gift. However, here in the rain, my powers were diluted, allowing the rain’s cold to seep into my bones. For a while I could pretend that I had never been cursed with fire, never had been forced to carry this burden, never been dragged under by the spirits. If I had known what would happen to me when I entered that chamber, I never would have entered.

“Raphael.”

I turned to see my brother Aaron standing in one of the archways leading out of the courtyard. He sighed, studying me with a critical eye. I knew exactly what he saw- his little disappointment of a brother, soaking wet, standing out in the rain like an idiot, without even enough sense to come inside.

As always, Aaron looked perfect. It was the only word I could use to describe him. He was tall, with dark, smooth cut black hair, and deep earth brown eyes that could make any woman feint. Somehow, the noble clothes he wore always fit him perfectly. Mine had been tailored to my small size, and yet they always were too big, hanging loosely on my small frame.

“What are you doing standing out in the rain?” he asked. I could hear the bored amusement in his tone- he’d caught me out here many times before.

“I was just thinking,” I replied.

“About?”

I hesitated. “My choosing. When I was selected to be an aspect of fire.”

“I see. And what are your thoughts on this?”

“Who asked you to come talk to me?” I raised my eyebrows. “Our father? Another noble?”

Aaron laughed. “You see enemies everywhere, brother. Perhaps I just wish to talk to you as a sibling, instead of as a spy.”

I sighed, letting my eyes drop from his. We never spoke as only siblings- always as the next king, and the boy that would never amount to anything. There were times when I longed for us to be able to speak freely, but there were no private conversations within the walls of the castle. Everything I said and did would be shared throughout the castle, and, most likely, throughout the cities as well.

“Just reflecting on it,” I shrugged. “But who doesn’t wonder about their choosing?”

Aaron sighed, and I knew I’d made a mistake- again. “Raphael. Your choosing is an event that is decreed by the spirits themselves. There is nothing questionable about it.”

Another failure.

“Of course,” I said quietly. “But what makes the spirits choose? It cannot be by any human definition of worth, or spirits know I would never have become an aspect.”

“Raphael.” Aaron’s voice became deadly serious. “Come out of the rain. We need to talk.”

Oh no. I walked forwards, head down with shame. Another talk. Another lecture.

Aaron took my arm, and began to guide me towards the section of the castle reserved for the three of us. At the moment, it was only occupied by Aaron and myself- Kezan being away fighting in a war.

We reached my set of rooms, and Aaron deposited me at the doorway. “Change into some proper clothes, and meet me in my suite. Understand?”

I nodded slowly, and stepped into my room, closing the door. I exchanged my soaking clothes for the rich fabrics of a crown prince. I always hated these clothes- they were too tight around my shoulders, but the body and the arms always seemed far too loose, resulting in an ill-fitted look. Even when these outfits were tailored to fit me, they looked awkward and out of place. Just like I did, I suppose.

Once I was properly outfitted, I took a deep breath, preparing myself before walking to my brother’s suite of rooms. A servant stood at the door, and opened the door for me, ushering me in. I gave them a small nod of thanks, and they looked away quickly. Flushing, I walked into the room.

Aaron was waiting in one of the chairs. The first room of his suite was a sitting room, where he would see guests, or, in this case, his brother. He gestured to a chair across from him. “Sit down.”

I obeyed, leaning back against the chair with a sigh. Aaron gave me a critical look, and abruptly I jerked upright, forcing myself to sit up straight. He gave me a slight nod, and I knew I had done something right.

“Raphael, you know what they say about you,” he began.

My eyes narrowed. So it’ll be this conversation again.

“They say I’m weak. They say I will never amount to anything. They say I am a bastard. They say my mother is a servant- a scandal my father has done his best to obscure.” I recited each rumor in nearly a monotone- I had heard them so many times that they had practically become another of my endless lessons. Except instead of learning about foreign countries, or distant lands, I learned what was wrong about me. What words were whispered behind my back when I wasn’t listening.

“You are a member of the royal family. If you do not insist on being treated with respect, you will undermine our authority. You must stand for your own, and tell them these rumors are lies.”

“But they’re not!” I snapped suddenly, causing Aaron to sit back with a startled expression. “They’re truths. You know it. Our father knows it. Everyone knows it. Everyone knows how hard we fight to cover it up, but that doesn’t change the fact that nothing they say about me is a lie!”
    “Never ever say that!” Aaron growls suddenly. It’s my turn to lean back, away from him. “Our father has done everything he can to protect your reputation- if it wasn’t for him, you would have been thrown to the streets long ago, or left as a bodyguard- a soldier. It’s because of his intervention that you didn’t suffer that fate. When you speak like that, you spit of what he’s given you. You’re a prince, Raphael. You stand for our kingdom. If you refuse to act on it, then you shame us. You shame our family. You shame our father. You shame me. You’re a prince- so start acting like it.”

I let my eyes drop from his. “Yes Aaron.”

He relaxed slightly. “Brother. Why can’t you understand I’m just trying to help you? I love you- just like our father does. Please believe me- I only want what’s best for you.”

I nodded, standing. “I should… go. Back to my rooms. Study.”

He nodded in approval, and dismissed me with a wave of his hand. I turned and walked from the room.

Be good, Raphael. Stick to the model. And if you don’t, you’ll shame us.

Not for the first time, I wished I was a commoner. They didn’t know how lucky they were.

Once I reached my room, I shed my noble clothes again, replacing them with commoner browns. I stood at the windowsill, staring out into the rain, and wondering what it would be like to just float away into it- into that grayness where nothing mattered but the wind, rain, and sky. Surely it would be better than being trapped here, forced into a model day after day. But I could not leave, and I could not change. I was too much of a coward for that.

I always had been. That was who I was. Raphael the coward. The one that shamed his family.

Take me away, I pleaded to the spirits in the rain. Please. Just for a little while. Let me be free of this imprisonment.

But there was no response- just the constant drumming of the rain against the flagstones.

I like the rain. It goes well with the tears that stream down my face when I am alone.

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