Chapter 12 – Questions (3)

Questions – Part 3

      To sum up what I’ve learned, no one knows what is happening to me, but a few things are clearer now. I know that the Zeroth has a long and ancient history. I also know why these people place the Zeroth on such a high pedestal; even without the fairy tales from the “before times,” there are actual historical accounts of the founding of this empire, and Zero was there.

      But as I finish my tale, a thought occurs to me. 

      “Domnis, if the Zeroth was a man who took the title of Zeroth in the beginning, why has it lasted this entire time? If there is one thing I know, it’s the greed and desire for power that all men carry. Why has no king ever erased the Zeroth title? With no Zeroth, a King would have unlimited power.” 

      Domnis considers me before responding. His deep brown eyes tell me that he has contemplated this and more. He’s seen things that I couldn’t even begin to imagine, and worse yet, they tell me of a warning. A warning that knowledge is to be sought, but only in the right ways, at the right times.

      Yet he seems to shove his own advice to the side, and opens his mouth. What he tells me shocks me to my core, for it is unbelievable at the very foundation of nature- magik be damned. He tells me that the One King is called such, because he is literally the One, and only One King the empire has ever had. The One King is an immortal being who watches over the world and guides its people.

      The Consulate has never had to elect another, because the current has always been.

      Truth be told, I had gotten used to most of the fantastical elements of this world, but this is stretching it. Even among the magik and the weird societal structure, an immortal man of a few thousand years, who governs the way this world is run, is preposterous.

      “How is that possible?” I ask with disbelief dripping from every word.

      Much to my surprise Dom nods in agreement and says, “Yes indeed. This stays in this room, of course. But I do not fully believe it myself, for it is unbelievable. But I’ll never have a chance to find that answer. None will, save the Three.”

      In confusion, I ask, “Do you mean to tell me you aren’t one of these… Three who get to meet the One King?”

      With a shake of his head, “Indeed. And none know the criteria required to become one. The only known knowledge is that it is for life.”

      I feel dizzy and am forced to lean against the back of my chair once more.

      “Does that not mean that everything the Zeroth did, was in vain? You have an immortal King, ruling forever- an unending tyrant.”

      “The One King is a lot of things my dear, but a tyrant, he is not. Indeed, he perches high above the rest of us, and rarely interferes. To my knowledge, most of his involvement with us regular folk ceased after a series of rebellions that supposedly happened at some point in the past. But most of that kind of information is lost to us, either purposefully, or due to sloppiness in record keeping.”

      My whole world crumbled around me when I came here. Now, even the pieces are set a light. Dom seems to be done with our meeting because he starts to talk to me about researching the Zeroth a bit more and tells me he’ll keep in touch.

      I make my way into the hall with the clang of the wooden door behind me. Now I have to find the women.

      I’m surrounded by beautiful colors and wonderful decoration. With everything that just happened, I managed to forget about the sting of my tongue and the colors seeping out of my surroundings. But it’s less overwhelming now.

       I look every which way and all around me is beautiful marble walls, portraits of people, and potted plants.

      I start making my way through the hallways, high above, the chandeliers guide me. I find a servant and ask them if they’ve seen Commander Rodiger. After finding the direction to head in, I make my way to the recreation room.

      As I wind through turns and take paths at various forks, directions fading from memory, I finally arrive at a nondescript door. I put my hand on the door but stop when I hear what’s within.

      I lean up close to the door and can make out laughter and giggling. I can tell they’re all having a wonderful time and I feel guilt in my heart. This is what they could be like, every day of their life, if it weren’t for me- if it weren’t for the Zeroth.

      Fate bound us, twisted us, and forced us to walk on paths undesired. I suck in a breath and think, that now, of all times, I could back out of all of this. Even if it’s just running away, I could just disappear, and then maybe these girls could lead a normal life.

      But no, I know that to not be the case. If I left, they would suffer. But would that suffering be worse than the path I’ve forced on them? I have no way of knowing. And that fear, above all else, is what forces me to release the breath I was holding and to put weight behind my extended arm, opening the door.

      Before even half of me is visible, I hear the jovial commotion come to an end. Sorrow assails me. I feel terrible.

      Once I’m fully visible from the doorway, all of the women stand and greet me, even Charlie. They all wear smiles that don’t quite reach their eyes. Indeed, their eyes are sorrowful. I’m not sure why I never picked up on it before. Maybe I was just too overwhelmed by always having them near me. Maybe now, after having an extended amount of time away from them for the first time, am I able to pick up on such subtle cues.

      “My Lord, we missed you,” says Mimi as she walks up to me. I stare at her, sorrow written on my face, and she halts and hesitantly opens her mouth, “M-My Lord?”

      I look over to Kay, who’s approaching my side even as we speak, my ever-watchful guard dog. Rose looks on and approaches me but keeps her distance to allow the others the space around me; ever the selfless giver. I glance at Mimi- ever with her competitive spirit.

      Last, but certainly not least, I look toward my shadow. Gee’s here, ever with her head turned away from reality. But for just one moment, she did face reality, and she probably saved me. At the very least, she tried to help me, despite wanting nothing to do with this side of the world.

      I look up at the ceiling, and think to myself, “Now Charlotte, the denier.”

      I feel the tears running down my cheek before I register that I am crying. The group of women look on in astonishment but, feeling awkward, don’t know what to say. I look down and bring my hand to my face.

      “My Lord, what is it? Did you receive grave news from Master Domnis?”

      Rose asks as she pulls out a handkerchief to pat my eyes with. I thank her and clear my throat before addressing everyone, “No. Not wholly at least. So, what fun is there to be had before we return home then?”

      With a wry smile, Charlie looks at me and says, “I don’t know about fun. But I was just reminding them about the “All Hallows Eve” festival coming up in a few months.”

      I nod and tell her it’s sure to be fun if she’s looking forward to it. She gets an odd look on her face when I ask her if Nina is around.

      Charlie briefly takes on the expressions of the others before clearing her throat and telling me that if she is here today, she’d be in the lab. “I’m going to go visit Nina then,” I tell everyone.

      As I go to leave they begin to follow. I turn a hard gaze at everyone there. I refuse to allow my misery to assault them. I want them to laugh for at least a little longer.

      “Stay here, enjoy your day off everyone. I’m safe don’t worry, Gee is with me.”

      Everyone has a strained, confused look on their faces so I give what little I can provide in way of comfort, the best-looking smile I can muster.

      “Seriously. Kay, keep everyone else safe for me. I’ll be back later.”

      I waste no time in leaving the room. I won’t hear their objections but frankly, it pains me. It pains me because they didn’t object. As protective as they are, I expected some form of protest. Hell, I’d imagine Kay would just straight up follow me regardless of what I said.

      Maybe having Gee to protect me is enough to them. Or maybe- probably, they don’t actually want to be with me if given the choice. I can’t blame them though. I am everything wrong with their lives.

      I move through the Academy and slowly find my way through halls with less and less people. The further I get away from where students would typically be, the less I can taste the magiks in the air. The halls become less and less decorative as I make my way to the back of the Academy. Eventually, I arrive at a door that looks no different than others.

      However, it’s the scent inside that lets me know I’ve arrived at the right place. In the end, it smells like what all hospitals and labs must surely smell like. With effort, I push the door open.

      As the door makes its way open, I catch a glimpse of yellow hair. A bit more and I see the rest of Nina. Her head is bowed over a desk with papers scattered over its surface. Loose wisps of hair stick out of her maid-like band she wears on her head. With elbows resting on the desk she glances at an angle up towards me. Upon seeing me, she hangs up a coy, little smile. “My Lord,” she draws out her last syllable.

      I enter her lab and look around the sterile environment. There’s beakers, and chemicals, and papers everywhere. And there, in it all, is Nina, seemingly in her natural habitat. Nina stands from her seat before I have a chance to wave her off.

      She approaches me and stands before me, head held high, and chest puffed out- for only a moment, but seems to crumble before me as she looked around.

      “I’m sorry for the mess. I wasn’t expecting to have you here.” She says with head now dipped low.

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      I reach out and place two fingers under her chin and tilt her head up. We lock eyes and a jolt passes through us.

      “I’ve missed you. I wanted to see you this entire time and make sure you were alright after everything that happened,” I say to her rosy cheeks.

      She looks everywhere except me but seems to finally give up. “I’m not sure what exactly you’re referring to, but I am fine my Lord,” she tells me while pulling away and putting distance between us. This aggravates me and I’ve been far too depressed from today’s events to take it in stride. My face twists in anger and I glare at Nina.

      She swallows and the contour of her throat shifts. “Please don’t tell me I’ve lost my one friend here Nina,” I say to her desperately, through gritted teeth.

      “My Lord, I’m honored you’d-” I can’t stand it anymore so I cut her off by storming up to her and staring her down.

      “Don’t b******* me Nina. Not when everything else has gone to hell. Not the one time I need a friend.”

      She seems taken aback, not at my anger but something else. After a moment of consideration, she looks wildly around the room. Seemingly finding what she wanted she heads towards a stack of papers and shoves them off what appears to be a stool. With a grunt, she picks it up and moves it over to her desk. She motions for me to take her chair while she sits on her newly acquired stool. I hesitate for a moment. It’s not fair that I get the good chair. But I give up, knowing she’ll just fight me on that too.

      I slink my way into the offered chair and let out a sigh I didn’t know I was holding. Nina studies me for a minute and asks, “My Lord-” she stops when she sees my glare again. She clears her throat and hesitantly continues, “Evangeline-sama?”

      She pauses for a moment as if asking a question, and looks to me as if contemplating my thoughts from my face. “What’s troubling you?” she finishes.

      Her green eyes run deep and seem to pierce me through. That was the last push. The concern she shows breaks my dam; the tears flow in a rush and wash away my reserve. I spill everything to her. Everything. I tell her what I learned from Master Domnis. I tell her about my world and my old life. I tell her how everything had been twisted and corrupted from the day I arrived here. The whole time I’m spilling my soul, Nina simply stares at me with concern writ across her face.

      She occasionally raises an eyebrow here, nods there, but otherwise simply allows me to get it all out. When all’s said and done, I’m a mess. My eyes are red and sore, my hair has mostly fallen out of its bun. Nina looks at me with concern and asks if I’m feeling better. I give her a nod because honestly, I do feel a bit better. Nina learning the truth has made me feel light as a feather

      Once I’ve calmed down, Nina’s smile fades and her face hardens. “You weave a tale hard to believe Evangeline-sama.”

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      I give her a weak smile and tell her I’m aware. “But if what you speak is true, it means you’re not from our world. That is most fascinating.”

      “I’m not making anything up. I swear.”

      “Indeed. I believe you. You’ve never been anything but good, even to someone like me.”

      “Don’t talk about yourself like that Nina. I don’t know your story but there is nothing that warrants such talked. Not from yourself or others.” She gives me a dubious look and opens her mouth but then closes it.

      She does this imitation of a fish several times before taking a deep breath and finally replying, “You don’t know me Zero. And you don’t know what I’ve done. But if there’s anything that could ever bring me penance it’s this- your cause,” she says in such a distant way that I’m not able to retort before she continues, “I will get you home. From this moment on this is what I’ll live for.” I’m angry that she’s talking like this but exhilarated at the thought of promises delivered.

      I reach out and grab Nina, much to her protest, and pull her into a tight embrace. She squirms and tells me to let her go but her complaints fall on deaf ears. I tighten my hold even as I hear the breath being siphoned from her lungs. Eventually, I let up and release her, but only after pelting her cheek with a kiss. She turns bright red.

      “What was all of that for my Lor- Evangeline-sama?” correcting herself at the end.

      “I knew from the moment we met that you were special Nina. I’m so glad to have met you. You’re the one light in this darkness that I can rely on.”

      At this, she turns an even deeper shade of red. She’s usually so collected, so seeing her at near Mimi levels of red causes me to lose it. I laugh and, for probably the first time since arriving here, it’s a deep, honest chorus.

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