Crooked Kingdom

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A man‘s steps echo down a foggily lit alleyway. The streetlights become hazy yellow sparks as he rushes by them. His trenchcoat drags briskly across the pavement, like a swallow's tail. Their battle calls resonate in his ears; those horrifying gurgles of rage, omnipresent in the streets of Caraval.

He hears the door of her house clanging, the sound of its rusty hinges echoing through the night. He has to go. He has to reach her. He can’t let them get in. He knows if they do, he’ll be alone again. Alone as he always was.

In his eyes is a spark of fear. A spark of worry. He sets his foot firmly upon the ground, and makes a race for the hunters. His heart beats like a drumroll, his breath speeds up by the moment. Sweat pours down like hail on his brow. He leaps over worn walls and lush trees, swiftly slides beneath unassuming passersby like a chilling breeze.

From afar, his eyes catch a glimpse of their patrol. Their eyes divulge that they are ready to do their duty, cold lackeys of death as they were. The hunters approach her house slowly, their swords shining through the murk. He takes a rough turn, his feet sliding with a quiet screech as he faces them.

They turn around, spotting his figure in the darkness.

Their eyes meet —hunted and hunter, mouse and cat. He plants his feet to the ground, and takes off to the skies, finishing his trail behind them with a gracious leap. The distance between them is a hair’s breadth, and he knows he has to finish the job quick.

In moments, the cold look in their faces is replaced by a mischievous grin, one that reeked of bloodlust and hate. They recognise him. They furiously draw their sabers at him, his body leaping backwards as their blades lightly graze his neck. An empty warning. Their bulks of muscle rush at him once again.

He fiercely clutches a man's arm, pulling him toward himself, leaping to the air as the man rushes to him. Before the hunter can react, he comes back down, grabbing his skull like an iron vice, and smashing it to the wall. It cracks with an eerie sound, the man's blood splattering in all directions. His body limps to the ground.

He softly brushes a hint of blood from his cheek, and looks onwards at his assailants, daunting them with a calmness he should not have.

They all rush at him in unison, a maelstrom of white and black and red all over. White for the glimmer of their swords. Black for their figures that fade into the night. Red for their blood.

She watches his struggle from the balcony, eagerly biting her lip. She shouldn’t have let him come. It would all end in massacre, at the end. She’d never wanted him to be like this.

He shares a glance with her. He knows how she feels —but he knows he has to do it. She’s worried for him. Of course, she would be. She always is. He reassures her, nodding to her that it’ll all be fine. Deep down, she knows it will.

He elegantly evades their rushes, hurriedly glancing to her to make sure she’s fine. In their eyes rests fear. They knew they shouldn't have pointed their swords at him. But they had no choice. Ever since they became hunters, they never had one.

The last man falls, his spine irreparably damaged. She still watches from above, her black hair rippling in the breeze, her hazel eyes peering into his soul. He looks back at her and gives her a soft smile.

He remembers when he first met her, when he first felt emotion.

She had a disease. It never bothered him. It never bothered any of his or her friends. Masses of fur would appear on her skin at times, and would disappear by the time the first ray of the moon peeked inside her quarters. She was reluctant when he met her, but bit by bit, she opened up. Even though for all the people she knew, he was the only one who accepted her as what she really was. Just a young girl, who wasn’t living the best life she could have, all because of a tiny spin of fate at her birth. And he embraced her.

As far back as he could remember, his world was gray. A monotone shade of murk, dyed in ash. He lived in the slums, killing dozens just to get a penny and eat a piece of rotten bread. The talons of time had scarred his body well. He was an outlaw, and he didn’t know how to live by the rules. But most of all, he didn’t know who he was. A nobody. Always a nobody, just another kid abandoned by life.

When he met her, she was like a ray of sunlight inside the monochrome. His only ray of light, his only source of color. Through her, he came to realise who he was. Not just a nobody, another prosaic in a dark mosaic. He was a person, with feelings, with goals, with traits. He had a face, an identity. He wasn’t a nobody anymore. He was a man, and his world was dyed in paint.

Then he hears the gunshot.

He sees her body drop down from the balcony, catching it with a leap. He stares at a hole where her heart should have been, streams of scarlet pouring out of it. He watches as Death pulls the curtain over her life, as the Moirae cut the last strings of fate. He watches, as he turns back into a nobody.

He holds her hand tightly, and mutters to her whispers of love and passion. He knows she won't come back. The tears run down hot on his face and end their descent on her lips. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I should have never gone there. I'm sorry. Please. Please forgive me. Please." he mumbles hastily between his sobs of anger.

They didn’t kill her. I did. I killed her.

It’s all my fault.

I did this.

I. Did. This.

He lets out a bloodcurdling scream, its echo flooding Caraval’s deepest corners. He knows he shouldn't have joined them. He knows he shouldn't have stepped foot in that husk of a building. He knows why they did it.

The Foundation is cold, and cruel. Cold, cruel, and merciless. They project their hate to the people they pick upon on the street, indoctrinating them in their violent ways until their mind finally shatters. Because their goal is to murder anything that isn't normal — anything they don't care about. They have long declined from mere guardians of society.

All to break him, turn him into a husk of his former self like they have done with so many others. Orphans. Abandoned kids. Drunkards. The dregs of society, that with a little more peril, would break. He was top brass. And he wasn't obedient. He never was. And those who aren’t obedient to them perish, sooner or later.

He sits there, holding her in his arms as the carmine moon paints the clouds with its cerise brush, howling on its jewelled throne.

He had nowhere else to go but the church. He didn’t go often. But if he would do what he was thinking of doing, he needed to. To confess his sins. Or to light a candle for the rest of the people butchered by them. A memoir, for those that had faded away.

He picks up her body, leaving the last shards of his grief behind, and embarks on a long funeral, the shapes around him turning into pieces of failed dreams, the shadows of the trees looming menacingly over him and swirling back to the dirt.

A funeral, to the terminus of her days.


Mr. Filia gently lays the veil upon her body, preparing her for her last journey to an afterlife, giving closure to the infinite possibilities she could’ve experienced.

Filia has much experience in this job. He was chosen to follow the foetid smell of death wherever it went. It hadn’t pleased him at first. But after so many years of roaming the battlefields like a ghost, perhaps it was starting to seem natural to him. His actions were almost mechanical, as if he was programmed to do it.

“Bullet in the head. Just a bullet in the head.” the man mutters, between quiet sobs, sitting gloomily on a worn pew.

Mr. Filia glances at him, his green eyes seeming wise behind his glasses. The man feels vaguely familiar. Perhaps he’d seen him somewhere before.

“You seem to be quite furious.” remarked Mr. Filia, blankly staring at the man.

“I don’t have a choice, Filia. They’ve made me empty again.” replies the man.

He sits up, and straps his trenchcoat back on. He gazes at the rainbow windows of the church, their surfaces reflecting a myriad of colours. They were not stained anymore. He’d told her they’d come here to get married, someday. He gazes back at Filia, watching him lay the veil upon her body. A veil that wasn’t white, a veil not of love, but a veil of demise, a veil now dark like his life. Their closure wouldn’t come with a kiss, or with celebration. It would come with their deaths.

Maybe they could’ve had children, watching them happily ponder and explore the world till the end of their days. Maybe they could’ve lived at the top of a wind-battered lighthouse and watched the ships come to shore. They could’ve stood at her balcony, watching the flowers of the bougainvilleas bloom. They could’ve lived a better life.

He grabs the ornate handle of the doors. They are cold. A sign that there weren’t any other deaths besides hers. Nobody had walked in here for a long time, except Filia and him. His stare turns ice cold as the doors creak open. He takes a step outside, but the soothing tone of Mr. Filia’s voice halts his steps.

“I would not advise you to go to them.” Filia says.

The man sighs, a fragment of a lone tear still bubbling up in his eyes.

“I have to, Filia. I can’t let them go. Not anymore.” he replies.

He takes his weapon out of his pocket, arming it with whatever bullets he had left to spare, their insides loaded with all types of exotic explosives. He twirls it around for a little, and ends his recital, swiftly placing it back at his pocket with a slight, smug smile.

I’ve still got it.

Filia remembers him —a flash of memory plunges at his mind. An orphan. He’d seen him once while wandering in the streets, the look on his face giving off his desperation to survive, a perilous task in the slums. He had pitied him.

He walks away, his figure fading into the night’s embrace.

“What is your name, might I ask?” ponders Mr. Filia.

The man turns around. He stares intently at Mr. Filia, his lips forming a soft smile, one in which Mr. Filia could glimpse a hint of agony, hidden behind an ethereal veil.

He laments on his next words.

She was half of my soul.

Now she’s gone.

I don’t know anymore.

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