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Crown of Dead Roses
I hadn’t expected to be summoned on such a day. Everything seemed as calm as could be, and I was only ever summoned on the days when he needed an Executioner. Sometimes he would send for me just to see me, but those days were rare.
But there I was.
I stepped inside his room, hands clasped in front of me, and immediately curtsied, “You summoned?”
The King looked back at me, his face shrouded in darkness since the curtains were drawn, but his emerald eyes shone clearly through the gloom. “Lilith.”
“Come here. You have to look at this!” He strode over and seized my wrist, being careful to not let his skin brush my fingers or palm. Once I was deposited by the tall window, he thrust the velvet drapery aside, “Just look!” He pushed me against the glass and I attempted not to wince as my face nearly made contact. “Look!”
I cleared my throat and scanned the streets of the Chaos Realm. All was calm and quiet. “There’s nothing, Dark.”
“Exactly.” He ran his fingers through his short, black hair, “nothing.” He turned away from me, “and I want you to tell me why.”
I took a deep breath and brushed my curly, black and gold hair out of my face, “What do you mean?”
He laughed humorlessly and swung back around to face me, “I have asked all twenty of my Advisors and none have answers!” He screamed, his bright green eyes wild, “so I’m asking the only Advisor I have left. You.”
I cocked my head to the left, trying to remain calm. Being in Dark’s presence was disconcerting, but he hated weak people to show their fear, “I’m not an Advisor, Dark, I’m your Executioner.”
He growled dangerously and grabbed me by the arm, “Look again!” He spat, shoving my face against the glass once more.
I felt my breathing pick up and struggled to remain motionless and calm. He wrenched his hand away, and I studied the streets more closely; my black Tigers with shiny emerald eyes were prowling the streets along with my Jackals of gold and black. I saw nothing else.
I turned towards Dark, fighting to keep composed, “All seems calm, Dark.”
My King let his scathing eyes rove over me before responding, “You are my only trusted friend, Lilith.” He hissed, stalking closer until we were nearly eye-level, my head being only a few inches below his. “That is why you are locked away,” he lowered his voice and took my elbows gently, “so you can stay mine.”
I shuddered and tried to keep my golden eyes from turning from his haunted green ones, “What do you mean, Dark?”
“I mean,” he tightened his hold on me and I felt his rising anger sinking through the golden, puffed sleeves of my black dress, “that you must tell me why those blasted Angels are so quiet today. Because I protect you.”
I sucked my lower lip in and took a second to still my quivering chin, “Dark….”
He grabbed the ends of my hair and yanked so my head was wrenched backwards, his other arm coming to loop around my waist, “Answer me.”
I fought my rising panic and kept my features calm despite my pain, “Perhaps they are tired of squabbles.”
His eyes flashed.
“I mean no disrespect,” I said hurriedly, “what I mean is that maybe… maybe the Angels have decided to plan. Usually, they are unorganized and manage to get nearly all of them killed. Perhaps…”
“Yes?” He prompted, pulling more firmly on my curls.
“Perhaps,” I continued, “they mean to establish their army and send us running.”
He seemed to mull this over, relaxing his hold a hair, “And, if what you’re saying is even remotely possible, what do we do?”
“I think best when my scalp is not being ripped from my head.”
He grinned at my remark and released me to begin pacing, “I forget, when you’re locked away, how witty you can be, Lilith. So? Go on and answer me, my Lily.”
His moods switched so fast that I could barely keep up, and I smoothed out my dress, and my panic, and turned back towards the window to remain calm. “Then you need a larger army, Dark.”
He came to stand beside me, eyes earnest as he searched mine, “And you, Lilith, will do this for me?”
“What dark creature do you want, Lily?” He whispered, “something that they cannot deny has only come from my Executioner?”
I felt my eyes flash and a twirl of gold and black circled my fingers, “It has been a long time since I’ve created. I am your Executioner, Dark.”
He pulled away, “It’s true, your power has… twisted,” his words were clipped and that gentle voice rose, “I shouldn’t have let him near you!” He stalked over to a table and swiped the piles of books off of it. I winced as he started to pull more books from the shelves of his bookcase. “That conniving⎯!”
“Dark,” I said, calmly adjusting my black skirt, “It wasn’t your fault. I let him get close.”
Dark paused, his shoulders heaving from anger, “Come here, Lily.”
I complied, taking short, measured steps to him. Books littered the area around him and I carefully stepped over them to reach him, “Yes?”
He turned to me, gaze soft, “Will you try?”
I looked down at my palms, still surrounded by those intertwining strings of magic. They used to be only gold, like my hair, until he came along. Before, I used it to build Dark’s army of terrifying creatures of emerald and black, but then my touch began to kill. Whoever I brushed with my palms or fingers died. Instantly.
I was no longer a Goddess. I was a Demon. An Executioner.
I looked back up at Dark, “I’m afraid it might only make things worse.”
Dark’s eyes smoldered, “How do you know if you won’t try?!” He spat, grabbing me by the neck and shoving me against the bookcase behind him, “you have to try! I am your King!”
I struggled to stamp down my fear and kept my gaze locked with his, “Listen to me, Dark, I can’t.”
His face loomed close to mine as he squeezed my neck, “You must. Or you will join my useless Advisors!”
“And who will kill me?” I asked calmly, “who will be your new Executioner? You say I am your only friend… Who built this army? Who saved your kingdom from destruction when the Angels first hit? You were a boy. Inexperienced.” His hold tightened, so I had to gasp out my next words, “childish. But I saved you.”
Dark glared at me, but I saw the cogs turning in his head. Despite how cruel he could be; I knew he would never kill me. Ever. But, to strike further fear, he lifted my feet off the ground a bit, leaving me scrabbling to further hide my terror.
“Dark,” I gasped, still as calm as could be, “you need me.”
His nostrils flared as he turned over my secret truths. Then, suddenly, he dropped me and I landed on my knees with a thud.
“You’re right,” he hissed, kneeling in front of me, “You’re right!” He pounded his fist against the black carpet and lowered his head. “Forgive me, Lilith.”
I coughed once and rubbed my throat.
“So what do I do? How do I find someone to create me something as horrifying as the beasts you’ve concocted?”
I was silent, and he moved closer to prompt me for an answer. I was loyal. I knew Dark was my King, despite the terror he funneled inside me. I had risen the kingdom up from ruin and I refused to abandon the throne. No matter who sat upon it.
“My Lily,” Dark whispered, stroking my hair, “I’m sorry.” He planted a kiss on my forehead and then pulled me into his embrace.
He smelled of death and roses, a combination that repulsed yet excited me. He needed me. I pressed my head against his chest and sighed gently, “I know of someone like me.” I told him grudgingly.
Dark seemed to stop breathing, “Who?”
I felt my heart plummet a little as I continued, “She’s whole. She is not tainted like me.”
“Yes, but who?” He pulled away and cupped my face, “tell me, Lilith.”
For the first time that day, I did not meet his gaze; I kept my golden eyes focused on the space between my chest and his.
He shook me, “Who?!” He demanded, “Tell me who!”
I looked up, “Her name is Callie.”
Dark leaned back on his haunches and stared at me, still cupping my face, “Where is she?”
“That’s the problem,” I whispered, “where she is.”
“Why is that? Tell me, Lily,” his fingernails dug into my cheeks and I stiffened, “where is she?”
I bit my lower lip, not wanting to answer.
“Lilith,” he warned, sliding his hands down to my shoulders. I felt small beads of blood dripping down my cheeks from his nails.
I was too afraid to keep silent any longer, “She is one of them. She creates the Angels that come.”
His eyes widened, and he slowly curled his lips to grin, “She creates those magnificent beasts?”
I nodded mutely.
“Her handiwork is better than yours.”
I tried not to wince at his secretly scathing words, “But she won’t help you.”
He studied me carefully, his fingers smudging the blood on my cheeks, “Perhaps not…” His eyes glinted, “but she will help my captive beauty. My Lily.” He got to his feet, pulling me with him. “You’ll sway her to help by playing the part of my slave, locked away in that tower, and then she will build you an army to fight me. Yes. That will work. We’ll trick her.”
“You want me to… pretend as though I’m being forced to serve you?” I gave him a disbelieving look, “she won’t buy that! As I look through the eyes of my beasts, she can too! She sees me beside you, helping to destroy them!”
He sighed and studied me, “My dear, sweet Lily.” He began, “you will do anything for me. Won’t you? You still have some gold within you; you can infuse them with your will. You can control them.”
I took a step back, one that made his features harden in anger, “I have done everything to aid the throne,” I told him, “but I get nothing in return.”
Dark took a brisk step closer, “What do you want, then?” He barked, “my kingdom?!” He raised his hand, as if to slap me, “well?!”
I smiled wanly and turned away, shaking ever-so-slightly, “No. What I want you won’t give me.”
“And what is that?”
Out of the corner of my eyes I saw that he stilled, hand still raised, “You want to leave me?” I heard a gentle quiver in his voice.
He needed me.
He lowered his hand and seemed to sag in relief, “Then what do you mean, my Lilith?”
“My tower. I want you to knock it down.”
“I built that to protect you.”
“From what? He is long dead,” I turned back to him, hands clasped in front of me, “I no longer want to be trapped.”
After a second of thinking, he nodded, “I will do it. But we need the tower right now.”
He laughed and grabbed my shoulders, “To introduce this Callie to my locked-away-princess.”
My lips curved up in a smile. For his benefit, “Then we must start right away, Dark.”
He laughed again, more shrilly and crazily that time, and planted another kiss on my brow, “Yes!” He took up a crown of dead roses he had weaved for me years ago and sat them atop my curls, “We’ll rule the world, Lilith! My queen!”
I curtsied again, face cracking with solemn lines, “As you wish, Dark.”
He jogged towards the heavy brass doors, only glancing back to shout; “my Advisors will be waiting for you, Executioner!”
And then he was gone.
My smile slipped away, and I collapsed to my knees, chest heaving. Alone, I finally let myself be terrified as I tore the crown from my head and hurled it at the opposite wall.
“You useless!” I spat, curling my knees in towards my chest, “you stupid fool!” I felt tears slipping down my cheeks as I thought of what would happen to Callie. I had just condemned her by revealing her to Dark. “What have you done, Lilith?”