Prologue

“Now I understand why you suggested a drive,” a young prince said with a wide smile. “It indeed is nice outside.”

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The boy next to him nodded. Frankly speaking, he looked bored, tired of the energy his companion possessed, of the commotion around them. The smell of the car they sat in was making him nauseous, his ears were throbbing. He sighed. This was not what he meant by going outside.

The prince shifted his gaze towards his friend, the sparks of joy filling his eyes disappeared, the smile turned to an upset grimace.

“What’s with that face? You’re not smiling, aren’t you happy?” he asked suspiciously and rubbed his chin. This could not get unnoticed!

Rodion lowered his gaze, ashamed. The silver eyes watching him were draining all his strength and will to complain, there was no point in it.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness. I spaced out for a second.”

Prince Centrio scowled. This was not right.

“Lies!” he accused the boy, “You dare lie to me! You-!” he shouted angrily.

“I- I didn’t mean to-“ Rodion’s eyes widened, heart trembled for a second.

Centrio’s expression changed this instant. The young boy burst into a laugh covering his face unable to suppress it. Turning elsewhere, he stopped. What a mistake he did, such carelessness! He inhaled heavily trying to hide the selfless act. This could not happen.

One, two, three… Haah- Charm smile then covered his face, inspecting the still terrified boy with auburn hair sitting in front of him. Corners of his lips throbbed, his breath shook.

Centrio cleared his throat, “You should’ve seen your face.”

The embarrassed boy bowed his face trying to cover his blushing cheeks. No matter how many times the prince teased him like this, he was scared- No, terrified of losing his head to the king’s anger. This theatre, the game they played, was making him forget who he really was. All that was left was his new role – the always-agreeing friend.

“You looked convincing, though.”

A bright smile blinded him for a second, he indeed pleased the extroverted prince.

“Driver!” Centrio suddenly yelled and turned to a small window connecting the cabin to the outside. “Driver, we would like to stop here for a while.”

Rodion bit his lip. Going out of the small cabin would be a blessing for him. The choice of words he made earlier was indeed good.

“Are you sure, Your Highness? It can be dangerous to-“

“You heard my order, driver. Stop. Now.”

“As Your Highness wishes.”

“Thank you,” Rodion whispered and looked at the slowly opening door.

Although he was almost twice as old as the young prince, he did not feel half as mature. Maybe it was because he was not used to the palace life before, maybe the prince was actually that intelligent. He did not know and was too scared to ask. I need to be more careful from now on.

The train of his thoughts broke- He winked, once, then twice. The prince no longer sat in the cabin, he was already outside blinding everyone with his shining smile.

He looked like a star lighting dark night around him. Silver eyes akin to crystals were fixed on the boy, waiting, staring.

“Are you going?” he asked after Rodion noticed the change of his position and lifted up his eyebrows. But, instead of waiting, he turned to leave, his snow-white hair sparkling in the sun. He sure could not hide his royalty, the blessing, the protection given by the gods themselves. Yet, how ironic, he looked feeble and vulnerable as he was lacking any color.

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Rodion jumped straight on his legs, making him wait would’ve been a sin unfit his position. He followed him, watching his every step, confident attitude, elegant movement. That was how he was- The royalty was always somehow superior.

“Where are we headed to?” he asked nervously walking a few steps behind. Even though he loved the sounds of the city, river, and fresh air surrounding them now, he was not sure whether it was safe for them to walk outside the castle walls in broad daylight like this. Not with the prince standing out of the crowd like that. Not with the guards following them as they did.

Centrio stopped. His finger pointed to the other side of the river. “There is a market, see? I’d like to go there.”

“There?” Rodion repeated and bit his lip. “It’s on the other side of Marcin’s bridge. It will take us a lot of time to get there and, ah-”

“And?” this time it was the prince repeating the other’s words. “I want to go there! I’m the prince!” he shouted angrily and crumpled his nose. “I can do whatever I want to!”

The childish side of the prince surprised the boy. He looked down on his hands. Do not argue, do not argue. He’s right, he IS the prince, that’s right.

The prince gave him a suspicious stare. Then he sighed, his fingers brushed the white hair of his, eyes shifted to the other side of the river.

Like a statue. For Rodion, the entire royal family looked somehow magnificent. He felt like a useless fly just standing near them, watching them. Even more, when any of the older siblings of the prince he served- or the king himself. He did not feel dumb, he was well taught, he trained a lot- and yet, he did not feel that proficient. The others like him, like the king’s right-hand, were but much better. He often asked himself whether he did not stand in the way of his prince, whether he did not slow him down. Whether-

“Follow me,” woke him up from the trance. The prince was walking towards the bridge.

Every step they did, every meter they were closer to the market, made the young prince more self-confident. He was looking around enjoying the view, commenting some things every now and then, not noticing how distressed his friend was of all the guards and the car following them. It was his reality, a normal day, unbearable for anyone else.

They were almost in the middle of the bridge when they heard a loud scream, bright light surrounded them.

Everything turned into chaos. It was magic, the plague, the impurity of this world. People around them started running in the hope they’ll escape the evil creation.

The prince stood paralyzed, terror mirroring in his eyes, people’s clothes bathed in red blood, screams everywhere. A sight like one from a horror story.

“Your Highness!” a voice pulled him back to his senses, a hand of a guard reached to him. “Your highness, please, to the car!”

Centrio looked at the man horrified, made a step forward, then backward. “Where is Rodion?”

“Your Highness, we have no time, we ha-”

“Where is Rodion!?” he yelled looking around. His eyes widened, fixed on a boy about ten meters further. He gasped, clenched his fists. Despite the chaos surrounding them, he ran right to him without a bit of hesitation.

“My prince, please!” he heard but did not stop. Leaving his friend there would be cowardice.

“Rodion! Rodion, over here!” he shouted while running closer to the boy forced to the bridge’s banister by the masses of people.

“Come!” he pulled his arm once being close enough. “Come!”

The boy raised his eyes filled with tears.

“Wh- What are you doing here, you- you should be in the car!” Rodion said with a trembling voice.

“Come with me,” the prince repeated once again grabbing with all his strength, pulling him on his legs.
Another scream, an explosion, this time much closer.

”Quickly!” he added fighting his fear and turned to face the chaos they came from. Suddenly, he froze. Eyes locked on a riderless horse heading their way. His gulped. A quiet “no” escaped his mouth as he pushed the boy to the direction he came from while he himself jumped to the other side.

He fell right on the iron railings that bent under his weight and with a loud crunching noise detached from the bridge. His breath froze for a second.

The sudden scream got lost in a locomotive whistle, tears filling his eyes as he was falling.

Everything faded away the moment he disappeared under the surface of the cold river.

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