The tyrannical heat of the summer wafted through Eden’s windows and seeped into her bed sheets. She felt the adherence of the silk on her legs and little trails of sweat raced across her neck, mingling the aromatic smell of her hair with a salty sharpness. Normally, Eden would be tossing back and forth with discomfort, restlessly twisting for a position that suited her but tonight she lay still, her right arm supporting her head under her pillow. Her eyes, raw with a sleepless zeal, were glazed over with the illusion that she had not blinked in several hours. She stared forward blankly, bright green eyes unfocused on the crown beside her bed. Each tick on the large clock sitting against the wall opposite her bed was low and ominous. Eden waited for the moment of clarity when the clock would utter a final twelve-piece note, allowing the past to descend in ashes and the present to rise in flames. She fought sleep’s persuasive hand as a warrior fights her enemy in battle, swimming through mixed illusions of greens and blues, dreams of power and the powerless, of crowns and castles and money, until, finally, the awaited hand sang those twelve notes, breaking her trance, and ending her battle.
The quiet clunk of her footsteps stuck to the dark wood floors and just barely echoed off the colossal ceilings. She reached the staircase and began to quicken her pace. She took two steps down at a time as gracefully as possible, until she had conquered all sound and gravity and merely floated down the marble steps. When she arrived at the bottom, Eden quickly turned left, racing towards the small door at the end of the hall. She produced a thin key and unlocked the door, confronted with a thin layer of dirt and grime blanketing the steps to the basement. She continued into its cold clutches, locking the door behind her. The steps were more narrow and treacherous than the ethereal marbles ones before. A single, fading light illuminated the gray pavement that awaited her. It flickered slightly, as if about to extinguish, to wrap the room in a glorious flame before becoming invisible and falling into darkness.
The walls of the cellar were decorated with an array of silver swords hung in uniform position, each hilt crafted by a delicate hand. On her right, crude instruments of war resided on a small table disorderly. The axes were blunt, sharpened only at the tips, and flails and morning stars sat in small pools of dried blood. Eden walked over to the swords, eyeing them curiously. She reached for the one in the center, drawing it from its green, jewel-encrusted scabbard, and held it parallel to her body. The trail of fantastic shadows emanating from the flickering light balanced on its tip for a moment, until they plunged off the end and disappeared into where the dying light could not reach.
“I thought you’d come.”
A deep voice beckoned from the corner of the room with tempting anticipation. Eden knew to whom it belonged, and she waited for the woman to step out of the darkness.
“Surprised?” The woman asked.
Eden did not look at her, still watching the little figures on her sword fall to their deaths.
“I guessed some resistance would be present.”
Eden shook her head.
“You thought wrong, Raina.” She finally looked away from the sword. The last shadow had jumped.
“She is your sister. How can you blame me?”
“Were you not the one who came to me for help?” There was a tone of bitterness in Eden’s question. “I came willingly, and I know that what I’m doing is for my people. I don’t care for your doubts. I’m ready.”
Raina raised her hands in surrender. They came to her sides and settled on her own sword, hung low on her hips in a scabbard decorated in the same green jewels as Eden’s. The irregular blue jewels that adorned the aspects and figurines of her royalty was not the sapphire she had once longed for — it had faded into a lustreless stone of unimportance. The green, however, bathed in a dazzle of grandeur and glorious dominance. When she was younger, her sister had worn this sword with the same confidence Eden held now. She, left with the inferior blue stones on a dagger, became jealous of the vast power the green sword held. She coveted it unconsciously when she was young, but growing up she felt more drawn and aware of her jealousy. The immense capability she wielded was invigorating, as if a chemical energy had spread from the intricate hilt through her hands and into her body. She was fueled with a madness only found in the darkest of storms. She was a tempest illuminating the horizon, brewing her final stance before devouring the world ahead. Eden knew, with the green sword in her hands, she was unconquerable.
“Shall we go then?” Raina asked with more confidence this time.
Eden’s look was answer enough as Raina mirrored the echo of her reticent footsteps up the basement stairs.
The infernal madness had struck the castle with a vengeance. The castle had fallen at her feet, and with triumphant anger she reigned over it. The courtyard was heated with blue and yellow flames, and the air reeked of ash and dust. Her royal presence was omnipresent between the fading embers and rubble. She saw nothing but fire, and blood, embers and ashes, the rising of a new day and the death of the other. It plagued in her eyes with sharp stings, but the burning was easy to overlook when all she saw was a landscape of her victory. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a glint of green and silver. Nothing, not ash or dust, rubble nor flame, could stop her now. Like a goddess she floated above the death and destruction and saw the glinting jewels of her sister’s, the circle of power a halo when she placed it on her head.
“STOP! Eden! Please…”
The voice. Stricken and cold, it echoed inside her superior bubble, pervaded the harsh exterior of her youthful reign. It was calling on tenderness and longing that the girl had never heard before. She floated down from her ethereal presence above the ruination, and Eden looked into the sullen eyes of her sister. Arabela’s porcelain skin was decorated in angry red slashes. Her hair that Eden had once envied, was burnt and knotted. Arabela’s eyes remained fixed on the crown now sitting on Eden’s dark head. A crazed smirk danced on her burnt lips, a shadow of insanity flickered across her visage.
“You were never one to be graced with strength,” said Eden. “I figured you would die after the first explosion.”
“You figured, or you wished?” The words were meant to hurt, but the intention was not carried out. She was too weak.
“You were never one to be graced with strength,” Eden repeated. “I expected less of you.”
“You were not graced with it either. I know you had help.”
Eden did not meet Arabela’s eyes. She refused to acknowledge the role of her counterpart, less she wanted the glory to be split.
“Raina was never keen on being involved with me,” Arabela continued. “She hated my tactics as much as you. Thus why she found more solace in your friendship than in ours.”
The words bubbled tenderly yet bitterly off her elegant lips. Eden knew nothing of a relationship between Raina and Arabela. There was no love, no intimacy for sure, but Eden felt their friendship hang before her as a marionette does from strings. Its crooked face taunted her with menacing, invisible eyes.
“Raina was your handmaiden. You treated her horribly, like you did with everyone. Like you did with me. That’s why tearing this castle down, tearing you down, was so easy. Everyone despised you, and you couldn’t handle the idea that people cared about their loved ones dying. No one cared that it was for the good of the castle, for the good of the kingdom. You didn’t convince them well enough. But I will.”
“Oh please, Eden, they loved me. They chanted my name in the streets—”
“Only because they knew you would torture them if they didn’t!” Eden interrupted. “Don’t be pathetic. You know what you did was wrong.”
“But I was doing it for my people!” Hot anger had erupted in her eyes. “Your unholy campaign for my throne is just the same!”
“I never claimed that having people locked away, chained for weeks without food or company, was for the good of our kingdom! I never killed people for sport and claimed it was for the good of our kingdom! You would have done that without the blink of an eye. And you did, even to your sister!”
Arabela began to advance towards her sister, but Eden stopped her, aided by the flickering army resting on the tip of her sword.
“How dare you—”
“Looks familiar, doesn’t it? It suits the new queen much better.” Eden moved closer to her sister, a threat hanging unspoken at the tip of Eden’s sword. Arabela raised her chin, eyes stuck on the brigade threatening to end her life. Again another step, and a small waterfall of blood began to trickle past the rigid collarbones onto Arabela’s pale skin. Eden considered her sister for a moment, her high brow and irregular features once smoothed with an ageless beauty were now creased, falling prey to loathing and fear. She wondered if it was almost considered a decency to cut Arabela’s life off by the edges, to preserve her beauty in a matter of terms. But she would not grant her that satisfaction.
The sword almost cut down with surprise as Eden heard the deep voice that once pervaded only from the shadows of the basement. Restrained by two official-looking men, Raina struggled in vain, her.
“Eden, help me, please!”
Almost. The words of pity almost passed though her mouth. But she knew there was no room for that now.
“Take both of them to the dungeons. Or, at least what is left of it,” Eden said.
What exact evil she was never graced Eden’s ears. She turned quickly, so as not to see the fear eroding Raina’s features. She walked gracefully above the destruction yet again, exceeding the holy and pure trails the crown allowed her to lead. The silver halo, seemingly rooted to her scalp, promised her years of glory, and she found pleasure in the eternal life she would live after death. It rested unperturbed on her head, a shining beacon in the forest of dust and ash, and she faded into the darkness, a militia of shadows trailing in her wake.