Spare me these moments. Please. I cannot die knowing I never said the words.
“I won’t say the words,” she said, a smile playing on crimson red lips. The moon was a stroke on the opalescent sky, but her eyes shone as bright as a thousand stars.
Her name is Akari, and she was my closest friend.
Today the Prophet came to our small off the grid village and told Akari- our sweet, innocent Akari- that she was destined to save us all. The Prophet was to take her back to the palace the next morning, but I couldn’t leave my friend without saying goodbye.
She had different ideas.
“Why not?” I demanded, glaring at the girl before me. “It’s just goodbye! Hardly two words!” I didn’t care that my voice reverberated through the pastures. We were far from the village. The air and the hills, the peace and the silence, all ours.
She laughed, the delicate sound of music and serenity all at once. “How can I say goodbye if I knowthis won’t be the last time we’ll see each other?”
Akari’s joy was contagious, and my lips turned up in a smile. I couldn’t be taken seriously, grinning like an idiot. “The Prophet is taking you to live in the palace. Why would you ever want to return here?” I spin around, hands out, motioning to the drab farm land around us.
“Because here is home. Here is you.”
“Well then,” I say, defeated, “I guess this is not-goodbye, Akari Solace.”
She echoes my declaration, “Not-goodbye, Arden Sinclair.”
“Say your goodbyes, Arden Sinclair.” Akari’s voice fills my ears and I can’t help but remember that midnight a decade ago. We were children. Young, naive children, and yet, that is where it all began.
Since that night in the pasture, I have made thousands of irreversible mistakes. I’ve stolen countless innocent lives, committed hundreds of crimes. I live my life trying to run from the soul-crushing guilt and regret that I know I deserve.
The years have turned me into a coward: the very epitome of failure. And yet, I have no fear, as Akari stands before me, bow raised, arrow pointed directly at my heart. I’ve known the girl long enough to know she never misses.
This is it. I think. I’m finally at my demise.
The ever turning wheels of time seem to grind slower, slower, slower.
Tell her! My ears are ringing. But tell her what? There is so much… So much I didn’t say.
I am caught in a frenzy, broken promises and fragmented phrases clash around my head.
Before it’s too late.
I look her in the eyes. They no longer shine. They burn.
The village was burning. Turning to ashes before my eyes.
It was two years after Akari left the village and fell out of my life. She never visited, and never wrote. I knew now, she told me lies that night in the fields. Lonely and aching for something I’d never again have, I wandered to the pastures where Akari and I used to spend most of our time.
I was alone when I saw the deathly orange flames dancing on rooftops. I was alone when I watched clouds of smoke bury my home. I could feel my heartbeat in my head as I ran back to the village.
But I was too late.
I walked through the bare streets. The buildings I’d grown up with were skeletons; planks of wood, and hollow door frames. Everything that remained was blackened, covered in ash. The smell of smoke was pungent and overwhelming. It was quiet. Deathly quiet.
I used to crave silence, but this was deafening.
Tears ran hot and fast, staining my cheeks as I called the names of everyone I loved.
My cries were left unanswered.
After Akari left, I thought I knew how it felt to be alone. I knew nothing. This loneliness was so much worse.
But who would do such a thing? I needed something to soothe the horror, an explanation for my despair.
Etched into the ground, I found my answer:
The king’s crest.
I spied the king’s crest emblazoned on Akari’s coat. I opened my mouth, prepared to let all the words spill out, but as soon as I saw the crown fixed over those two intertwined swords, the well of things left unsaid, dried up.
After the fire, when I needed people to blame, I remember thinking that Akari had to know. How couldn’t she? I believed that Akari, blinded by ego and ignorance, let our village- her home- be destroyed.
But I know now, all the hate and anger I’d directed towards Akari should’ve been bestowed upon the king. All these years later, I refuse to let his majesty take away my final words. To let me die without giving her an apology.
This is not about him. It never has been. I understand that now. Me becoming the monster I am is about me.
Me not being able to let go. To grieve. To forgive.
How ironic that forgiveness was all I wanted now?
“What?” Akari yells, voice slicing through the frosty winter air. I notice there is a tremor in her hand. Why, though? This must be easy for her. She is the hero, and I am so clearly the villain, “If you’re going to say something, say it!”
Perhaps I can compromise on the sound of her voice.
I couldn’t shake the voice. It came alive shortly after the fire, when I ran away to the city to plan my revenge. A constant reminder that I lived when everyone I loved had perished. That it was my sole duty to avenge them. And despite the sleepless, hungry nights spent penniless in the city, I just couldn’t seem to die. The voice was rational when I stole and killed, blackmailed and kidnapped. The voice was a curse and a miracle that kept me alive long enough to see manhood. Half a decade after my village burned and I knew, no matter how hard I tried, the voice couldn’t be vanquished until I had my revenge.
Now, I was finally going to have it.
I crept into the king’s quarters, swift as a shadow. There was a little boy at play on the floor before his father. The scene was so innocent it almost gave me doubts for the deed that lay ahead.
I edged closer to the king, blade drawn. Now was not the time for hesitancy.
Was this what it all led to? Stealing the life of our king? The life of a father? Would this act finally silence the torments ravaging my mind? Even if it meant silencing another man?
It was the boy who saw me first. Pudgy fingers pointing to the shadow prowling behind his father. Blue eyes glistening with youth and horror and maybe, the slightest prospect of what was to come next.
“Dada!” He called, “Monster!”
The king glanced around the room. He was not wearing his crown.
Good. I thought. He can die like an ordinary man, punished for his crimes.
Heart hammering in my chest, stifling ragged breaths and blinded by rage, I did not pull back as my dagger pierced the base of his neck. No regrets crossed my mind as blossoms of red blotted the collar of his white tunic.
Only when the little boy screamed and cried as his father slumped forward, eyes eternally glazed, did the slightest feeling of wrong awaken inside of me.
“Monster!” The boy sobbed. He repeated the word, engraving it in my mind.
My feet felt as though they had melted into the floor. Had I become what I sought to destroy?
I robbed a boy of his father.
But his father robbed you of your home.
Perhaps the voice was the true monster. Teaching me to lie to my mind and hide from my heart.
Perhaps it was the monster, consuming me as I drew a bloodied blade, that made me forget how to feel.
I remember how to feel.
Emotions that I had forced myself to bury are dug up, flowing through my veins, like water in a dried-up stream. It is overwhelming and painful. I have heard of butterflies in the stomach, but the sensation feels so much worse. Like angry crows. There is a fire in my chest that no amount of willpower and suppression will allow me to put out.
My body feels like lead, but I can’t understand why.
I got my revenge. I let hate consume every aspect of my being, engraving my wretched legacy into the fabric of this kingdom.
I should be allowed to welcome death with open arms, but I can’t without quenching the flames.
I have to give Akari her apology.
Hardly two words.
Akari fires her arrow.
Relief floods threw me as I know I won’t die without saying the words.