"I’m not saying this just because you look like me. I have no reason to vie for your compliments either. Tell me what you want."
Though this body might have been borne from her flesh, the soul residing within couldn’t possibly resemble her. My habits, thoughts, values, down to my small subconscious movements were a cumulation of my experiences including that of my previous life. Would I still say I was the same person I was from my past life? Now, my past life felt so distant I didn’t know how to feel about it.
"How fussy. Not that I hate that. I just don’t think you were ever like this as a child."
"… You’re saying we’ve met before? I have no memories of that though?"
Auresia then paused for a blink before smiling softly.
"You must have forgotten. You did tell me that there was a chance you might forget."
Auresia did not reply. The sun could be seen setting in the distance. Her silver hair was glowing in red from the setting rays. At that moment, it almost seemed as if we were both doused in different hues. We really looked nothing alike. Whilst I stared at how beautiful and breathtaking Auresia, the woman who gave birth to me, was, she stepped forward.
"You can use an Artefact of the Wind, right?"
She casually placed a miniature stele on her lips. It was as if she knew everything about me.
"Use it and return to this spot tonight."
There were only the two of us in the garden but she still whispered in my ears. Midnight? I recalled how she told me to come find her if I wanted to know the truth. She might be the one who could answer the questions I’ve held for a long time.
When night came, I simply wore a shawl and headed out. The night felt as familiar to me as eating now. On my way to the stele, I was reminded of Amor. The bracelet he had given me had always jangled around my wrist. I clasped that wrist with my other hand. Amor. What should I do with the man who elicits sympathy by the mere thought of his name?
I returned to the Central Palace that I had visited earlier the same day using a stele. Of course, I didn’t teleport to the garden where I met Auresia. Still, I spotted her waiting for me near the stele.
"Do you remember? You told me to come search for you if I wanted to know the truth behind this scar on my cheek."
"Yes, I do."
"That’s the only reason why I’m meeting you today."
Sneaking up on me, she pulled my hand towards her.
"Is it finally time to side with you?"
"The emperor has gone to sleep early and the Crown Prince has left his seat unattended…"
For a moment, she erased the smile on her face and glanced towards the palace. No, it looked more like a glare. The hatred in her eyes did not look unfamiliar. She pulled me closer.
"This is a good night to talk about the truth."
She then turned around, saying time was running out. She brought me to a secluded hallway. The empty hallway, void of any person, was as dark and quiet as a lawless night as anxiety held me at a chokehold.
"You know, back when you were still a child. I think you were about six. You were like an unpolished gem but you were quite bright."
She murmured with a lamp at hand. She wasn’t reminiscing sweetly of her past, talking about how ‘lovely’ I was as a child like most mothers do. It sounded more like she had just been reminded of a small insignificant part of her past. I understood. She had been the one who abandoned me and never bothered to visit. How could she love a child she never saw?
"I didn’t know you’d end up wearing a pair of half-dead eyes."
Well. I never expected I would either. I had no idea my life would be like a snowball rolling down a snowy mountain, traversing down an unpredictable trajectory.
"Indeed, it is no wonder why Castor was attracted to you."
She sounded more like she was calmly appraising facts almost like a shower arriving after rain. My annoyance flared up as I spat.
"Where on earth are we going??"
She gave a slight smile before saying, "You’ll see."
But this only made me more confused. It didn’t feel like she was trying to pretend to be my mother. She was being too tepid towards me for that. I was not going to suddenly die with a shot to my head, right? At least I could be relieved to know that my diary would have predicted my death if that was the case. But my anxiety was not something that could easily dissipate like that.
"We don’t have time so I’ll make this quick."
What? She remained quiet. She grabbed me before stopping in the middle of the hallway. The end looked so far away I couldn’t tell how far I had already walked. The unlit hallway was like a maze of darkness. As Auresia fiddled with some statues and slotted them into place, a path slithered into view with a creak like a scene in a movie. She quickly walked through the opening. With my hand in tow, I was forced to follow.
"This is it."
She stopped. I slowly looked around the space. There was no longer any need for the lamp Auresia was holding. The huge chamber was so bright a small lamp could barely compare. And a huge rock came to sight. It looked like a crystal that I would often see embedded in jewellery.
Perhaps the room was bright because of the large crystal. Other than the 12 Grecian columns erected around the space and the huge crystal standing in the middle of it, there was nothing in here. It felt a lot like crystals glittering in a cave but the said crystal was so huge it illuminated the huge chamber with light.
The light coming off the crystal might be bright but I could still see Auresia’s lamp. The lamp was dim making her thin wrists stand out even more.
"I’m going to tell you something interesting now. Shouldn’t you know the truth behind your own misfortune?"
A tremor ran through my body for a moment. I wondered why her soft words rang in my ear.
"Do you mind hearing me out? About the bloodsoaked truths surrounding this Empire."
When I glanced down, I spotted the diary. The diary started vibrating as if it was reacting to Auresia’s words.
"Where should I start… Right, the Empire has remained standing for generations because it only ever needed one successor."
She tore her gaze away from the crystal before turning towards me.
"But why did our current emperor decide to have so many children– 3 princesses and 7 princes to be exact?"
Why was Auresia suddenly talking about this? Why did she bring me here? Curiosity made me raise my head. What did she want for her to gaze upon me so gently yet solemnly as she spoke?
"The current emperor has lost all his divinity and has become weak. But back when he still had his abilities, he prophesied."
Eyes like mine stared straight into mine. Her gaze was so mysterious and her eyes were of a colour as pretty as this crystal but they looked lifeless and empty like a doll’s.
"The era of gods was coming to an end."
Did the era of gods refer to this current Empire? The only country in this world that used divinity and still had traces of the gods remaining on our lands was this Empire. Auresia flashed a beautiful smile. With that soft smile, she shone like the moon.
"This was what he prophesied. Gradually, all divinity would disappear from this Empire and people would start losing their powers starting from his generation. And the next emperor would mark the end of the era of gods."
"If you’re talking about the next emperor…"
"Castor Dje Kaltanias."
The prophecy matched what happened in the . After the tyrant, Castor, ascended to the throne, the Empire was destroyed. Auresia slowly swept her white pale hands down my chest.
"Do you know what his Amasia (middle name) is?"
She seemed to have been expecting that I would be very curious. Now that I had come this far, I shook my head to entertain her. An Imperial’s middle name, Amasia, was said to be given through a spring by the God of Fate. When an Imperial was born, a piece of parchment would be dipped in the waters and their Amasia would appear inscribed on the paper. It was also referred to as their fated name or the name only one person was allowed to bear.
I knew. I knew what that meant. The tyrant’s other name.
"The last emperor."
Just then, the gaze in her eyes quickly shifted. I could not describe the change but there was now a strange glint in her purple eyes as if she herself had changed.
"The 3rd god, the God of Wisdom, the 4th god, the God of Plants, the 7th god, the God of Winds, the 8th god, the God of Blacksmiths… The emperor, who could not bear to sit and watch as his empire got destroyed, decided to bring women who carried the powers of the 12 strongest gods to the Imperial palace."
Was the crystal glowing in response? I didn’t know.
"And then he used them to give birth to children. To give birth to templars."
"A child of two powerful templars has a higher chance of being a strong templar."
I stared at Auresia. She was in something that looked like a slip-on dress that revealed both her shoulders, arms and her chest. The dress emphasised the slender silhouette of the heartless mother who abandoned her daughter and the cruel villainess of the original story.
"It had been a disaster. Most of the emperor’s children lacked divinity."
Auresia was no longer looking at me. She was staring off into space as she muttered. Perhaps she was looking back at the past. Her dim eyes sank deeper into the darkness.
"The son of the Templar of Wisdom was wise but he held no divinity. One of the twins of the Templar of Blacksmiths was a mere human while the other was too weak of a templar. The son of the Templar of Plants suffered from illnesses since birth. The brother-sister sibling pair of the Templar of Winds carried the total divinity of an average templar. And…"
Aureisa turned her head to look at me before smiling, But her smile looked neither gentle nor kind.
"There was only one child who managed to be born with strong and absolute prowess. The sole child of the First Queen, the Crown Prince."
Dane did mention that. The current emperor had prophesied something. And that was what Auresia was saying too. Back when he still had divinity, the emperor had prophesied this. So, why did the emperor lose his powers?
"That’s strange. Why did the emperor lose his powers?"
Auresia flashed me a generous smile when I didn’t refer to him as my father. As if she knew everything I was trying to do. The sunny expression that I had seen for the first time on her seemed to fit her age. She slowly walked into the shadows. Her hair, which had always reminded me of delicate petals, now looked like withered grass.
"He decided to use Castor. He used his son to stop the era of gods from ending."
Even though the crystal shone so bright, the surrounding shadows felt so dark. As Auresia stepped into the shadows, I could no longer see the expression on her face.
"Since he was a child, the Crown Prince, Castor’s powers have been too strong for the emperor to handle. The emperor got anxious. So, he decided he would rather sacrifice Castor to the crystal so as to prevent the Empire’s fall."
Her red lips smiled.
"Because he believed that if he provided the crystal with the most powerful heir the gods had prophesied would be born, the Empire would be able to use divinity forever again. And the emperor knew how he could make his ‘Power of the Lords’ stronger."
Auresia touched the crystal that was glowing in light. The crystal was big enough to overwhelm her small stature. I was feeling sick from this stuffiness. I could tell from its smell that this dusty chamber had existed for a long time. My hands felt hot. When I glanced down, I realised it was a result of the diary.
"The emperor knew that there was a curse that haunted only the most powerful heirs. He noticed that the heir would only become more and more powerful every time they came back from death. And as time spent in the curse continued, the Power of the Lords only became stronger."
I knew. The curse of regression. I bit my lips.
"But did you know? About the fact that the curse only begins once the heir dies."