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Lyuben took a few deep breaths to comfort himself. He surveyed the room. Expensive decorations laid in pieces strewn across the ruined hall. Cracks spread throughout the marble floor in complex patterns like a secret underground railroad map. Across from Lyuben, a red wooden bookshelf laid in splinters with colorful books scattered around it. Everything was a mess. He looked at his right hand. It was wounded badly and his face had small cuts from the shattered glass on it.
Lyuben dropped his sword. The moment his hand left it, the color returned from black to its shiny silver. Blood pounded in his head.
W̸̨̛̞͕͛ë̷̡̜̥́ḷ̷̛͜l̸̡͐́̏ ̴̧͑̀͠ḍ̶̡͌̓ò̴͉̣͚́͠n̷̡̰̻͐̈́e̵̝͖̕̕,̸̢̻̙̏̚ ̴̡̿̾̔͜L̸̹̝̳̉y̴̙̹̣̏́̊ȗ̵̢b̸̳̼̒̍͑e̸̩͐̾̒n̷̨̢͚͂͑.̵͍̎̇ ̶̰̑͂͘I̷̻̔̃͗t̷̙̝̗̔'̸͉̾͐s̵̲̼̫͂̔ ̵͖̈́t̸̯̏͑ǐ̸̧̬̬͆̔ṁ̷͔̩̭̓̕ẽ̸̞̠ͅ ̶̰̍̇f̶̦͕̝̾̀͊ö̶̩́̂r̴̤̋̆ ̷̖̳̖̆̈̽ȳ̸̧̛̘͖͋ó̵̲̞̻͋̔ṷ̵͋̓̚ ̴̞̏t̴͍̪͆ȯ̶͔̌͝ ̶͇͉͐̃̈́͜ț̷̈́͑͌a̸̬͊̔̀k̵̻͐̒͛e̸͕̋͐ ̶̨̿t̸̘̺̙̾́͝h̶̞͆̈́͐e̵̲̒́͂ ̵̪͕̂̈͜ṫ̴̢̺̲̒ẖ̷̞̲̎̅r̵̛̜̚͜o̷͓̟͚͐ň̶̼̤̈́̊e̸͖̖̐͋.̴̭̀
He looked at the rose in his hand as though he could see his lost boyfriend.
Wh-what’s happening to me?
The prince strode grimly through the castle’s long halls as one would at a funeral. He ascended up a flight of stairs and slowly pushed open two grand doors. Lyuben walked regally across a purple velvet carpet with long golden stripes down the sides towards the two thrones.
Lyuben touched his father’s crown. His hand trembled as he lifted it gently into the air. Lyuben examined the silver crown studded with brilliant jewels. A particular gem stood out to Lyuben: a black pearl shaped in a rose.
“How peculiar…” Lyuben murmured.
Then, as though under a spell, he placed the silver crown on his head. A brilliant rush of power swirled around him. Black and silver light collided in the air before vanishing into sparkling red dust.
Lyuben left the throne room, still wearing the silver crown and hurried up to his room. To his surprise, his window was shattered. There were two letters on his unmade bed. One was in a black envelope with a silver rose seal. The other was in a golden envelope with a red, circular seal. There was a note on top of the two letters. Lyuben read the brief note:
“If you’re ever lost, think of me.”
There was no signature. Lyuben looked at the envelopes quizzically. He placed them neatly on his bedside table and opened his grand closet. There were shelves of rare objects and racks of colorful clothes across the closet. Lyuben smiled a little bit at his luxuries before choosing a perfect outfit for himself.
“I’m Lyuben. Lyuben, Prince of Malterra. Nothing more, nothing less. I will not fall to the abyss like my mother said. I cannot.”
Ď̸̢o̵̰̅n̷̹͌'̶̥̅t̴̬͂ ̸̙̇y̷̼̒o̷̜͠u̸͎̐ ̸̠̓w̵̹̽ḁ̸͛ǹ̴͍t̶̟̍ ̶͓̅t̶͚͒ȍ̴͙ ̷̜͠p̵̢͘r̸͇̒ȯ̶̟t̵̪͂e̷̱͊c̶̲̒t̸̠̏ ̵̪̄Â̴̩ỷ̴̲d̶̯̓ẹ̷̌n̴͎̽?̴̯͘ ̵͔̽O̷͍̔h̴̢̕,̶̩́ ̵͕͑i̷̳̔ṱ̶͝ ̷̭̏w̴̮͊o̴͈̾ų̴̅l̶͉̐ď̷̮ ̶͍̒ḅ̴̇e̵͇̋ ̶̫͝a̸̤͂ ̶̒ͅś̷̝h̵̏ͅa̶̡̅m̵̘͝ĕ̶̟ ̵̦͌i̵͕͘f̶͙̏ ̵̹̀h̵̪͐e̷̗̊ ̷̳̃d̵̜́i̴̧̾e̶̳̚ḋ̸ͅ ̵͇́ĺ̶̫i̸̲͋k̴̠̀e̸̱̓-̵̭̂
Of course I want to! I- I love him!
G̵͈̓o̶͚͠ö̷͙ḓ̸́,̵̡̀ ̶̗̌t̸̗͆h̸̝͒e̶͇͝n̶̤̂ ̸̱̅l̵̲͠ĩ̷͉s̸͔̅t̵̓ͅẽ̵̳n̴̦̾ ̵̹̐ṭ̶̀o̶͌͜ ̴̳̀t̸̻̾h̸̳͝e̴̠̔ ̴͈̉å̸̟b̸̻̿y̴̬̆s̴͙̽s̵͚̊.̸̠̂ ̵͔̒I̸͕͝t̶̙͛ ̴̘͒w̴͉̍ỉ̸͔l̸̞̔l̴̨̎ ̵̰̓h̴̩͌ę̸́ĺ̶̠p̵͉̚ ̶̞̈y̸̳̅o̶̧͋u
Yes. Of course.
Then, Lyuben stuffed clothes, money, and the letters into a small bag. Then he grabbed some spare clothes for Ayden and headed toward his room door. He paused. Lyuben opened his closet again, reaching to the highest shelf for a long shining object encased by glass walls: a dagger. Lyuben opened the casing and placed the dagger carefully in the bag.
Just in case.
Then Lyuben ran out the doors. He raced down the expensive carpeted stairs and through the winding corridors. Then he darted through the trashed halls from his duel with his mother and finally flung open the castle’s back doors. Ayden was lying on the marble steps and Ryan was in the center of the majestic garden.
Some onlookers at the scene cheered upon Lyuben’s arrival. Others continued screaming insults.
Lyuben ignored them. He kneeled down and put two fingers on Ayden’s wrist to feel a pulse.
“Thank goodness! He’s alive!”
Ayden regained his consciousness. He was disoriented and weak. “Lyuben. Is that you?”
The prince smiled. “Yes, of course it is.” Lyuben helped Ayden to his feet.
“Wh-where’s the queen? Are you okay?”
“She’s gone, and yes. I’m fine.”
Ayden wiped some of the blood off Lyuben’s face.
“What will we do now?” Ayden asked, leaning on Lyuben’s shoulder for support.
“I- I don’t know. I’d rather be anywhere but here.”
“Wait. Your mother’s gone. What about you father?”
“There’s no trace of him in the castle.”
“So that means you’re…”
“Yes. I’m the prince of malterra. With my mother and father gone, I have control of the kingdom.”
“But I have no reason to stay.”
“All I remember in this castle is the pain I felt. The pain my parents caused me.”
M̵̧͝a̶̐ͅk̸̲̅e̴̙̓ ̶͎́h̵͕͌ẻ̶͍r̶̖̐ ̵͊͜p̶̗͗a̶̧̍y̷͙̏ ̷̧̈́f̴̛̱ò̵̩ŗ̶͂ ̶̞͠w̴̥̿h̴̦̀ḁ̵͌t̶̨̉ ̶͔͂ş̵̔h̴̭͒e̵̛̖ ̸͔̈́d̶͚͝ḯ̷̩d̵̙͒.̷͍͛
“I’ll train. I’ll work harder. I’ll-”
Ȗ̶̲s̵̟͘e̵̪͂ ̸̼́t̶͍͠ḩ̴̀e̸̩̒ ̵̟̂ă̸͜b̵̢͋y̶̙͠ŝ̷͇s̵̩̑.̶̠͛
“-prove my worth.”
H̴̻̀e̷͍͠ ̷̥͘w̶̛̟i̵͍̎l̸̖̒ḻ̸́ ̷̬̓n̷͈͌o̸͎͆ẗ̷̫́ ̸̬̓h̸̪͛a̴̗͆v̶̰̒é̸̡ ̴̨̓d̶͉͝i̸̙͠e̷̜̒d̵͍̏ ̴̲̃i̷͔̓n̴͔͂ ̸̫̓v̶̭͐ȃ̵̜i̵̦͘n̴̹͘.̷̨͗
I will not lose sight of my loved ones. And I will exact my revenge on those who threaten them. I am Lyuben, the Prince of Malterra.
Ayden nodded. “Well, the best way to train is in the Tournament you left. You want to prove your worth? Let’s win it.”
Lyuben nodded, his eyes fixated upon the horizon. There were gray storm clouds lingering beyond the great kingdom of Malterra.
“How long have I been away?”
“The journey here was at least a few days. Maybe four days?”
“I don’t think any of us are fit to travel right now,” Ayden stated, “Should we stay the night in your-”
“No, we should get going. I can’t bear to spend another day here.”
“I understand. I think I know my way back to the tournament city. If everything goes according to plan we should return to the tournament in ten days.”
Lyuben drew himself closer to Ayden, then paused like he wanted to say or do something important. Lyuben shook his head and gestured to Ayden to follow him. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”