BY ASHLEY BARRY
I beheaded my father when I was just seven-years-old.
It was a rite of passage that marked my transition from powerless child to supreme sovereign. I could hear the blood flowing in my ears, a horrible rhythm, as I lifted my tiny hand and gave the command. My nostrils flared when the blade, a beautiful but indestructible thing, came down on the back of my father’s neck, severing his head from the rest of his body.
A gaggle of servants moved forward at once, a collective entity, to remove his lifeless body and scrub the blood from the floor. I could see pink foam rising between their fingers as they dragged the rags over the area where he fell. He existed for the sole purpose of producing the next heir and, now that he had, there was no further use for him and he was disposed of.
It wasn’t long before the veil, a garish thing made of gold coins, was placed over my young face. I had ascended the throne and would reign for as long as I could survive. I clutched the finely crafted arms of the lacquered chair as my people fell to their knees before me.
I was their new leader and they would kill anyone at the snap of my fingers. My weighted veil was a comfort because it hid the twisted expression on my face. I dropped my chin to my small chest and said nothing as I tried to control my shaking body.
It was only then I let the tears flow out of me.
“Are you with us, my Lady?” The girl servant’s voice was like the tinkling of a silver bell.
Her voice, a sweet melody to my curved ears, drew me back to the present. I smiled some as my green eyes drifted towards her in the mirror’s reflection. Haali, my girl servant, was completely covered in ivory fabric, a standard uniform that effectively erased her identity and granted her a ghost-like appearance.
Her face was something I longed to see and yet it was concealed behind a veil constructed of light, breathable material. I only knew her by her voice and hands, which were gentle as they gathered my auburn hair up into a high ponytail. She was a kindly servant and one of the rare few I confided in.
“Yes, Haali. I’m here.” I said as I examined myself, the monstrous ruler, in the oval mirror. I was no longer a child. I was tall and wiry and ferocious looking. If it weren’t for the veil of coins I wore in public spaces, an object that signified my importance and marked me as different, I looked near identical to the others: alabaster skin, auburn hair, an angular face, and a body hardened by rigorous training.
When Haali finished preparing me for my training session, she bowed her head and, like the phantom she was, silently left the room. I watched her go, as I’ve done many times before, with a torturous feeling of longing. How often I’ve wanted to tear that concealing veil from her face and look upon her, hungrily devouring a face that differed from my own. I knew little of the world beyond the palace.
The training chamber was spacious but contained little within it, offering only a few select weapons such as steel blades and knives. I entered the room on silent footfalls and grabbed hold of a long blade that sung as I pulled it from its leather sheath. I looked upon the blade’s reflection and saw him emerge from the shadows like a hell raising demon. He was fast, but I was faster. I spun around and expertly nicked the crook of his arm with the tip of my blade, my limbs instantly afire.
Kaleek, one of my elder brothers, hissed and jumped back as orange-red blood dripped down his pale arm in rivulets. I rose onto the balls of my feet and swayed back and forth, moving my body into the appropriate fighting stance. I continued to sway for a beat or so, the hem of my silk pants producing whooshing noises as it swept the floor. Kaleek grunted and lunged at me again, the muscles in his arms tightening as he swung his blade at me. With the grace of a classically trained dancer, I repeatedly ducked and side stepped, dodging his attacks.
Unable to land a strike, Kaleek’s increasing agitation manifested itself in his combat style, which became sloppier over time. He was a good sparring partner, but he was hotheaded and reckless and, at times, dangerously unpredictable. When his frustration overtook him, I sensed a wicked change within him. He looked upon my long face and smiled, his emerald eyes wild. With little to no hesitation, he threw his blade at one of the servants that stood silent against the walls of the training chamber.
“Kaleek!” I snarled and backhanded him without a second thought, a low growling noise bubbling up from my throat. He stumbled to the side and laughed in his cheeky way. I heard the blood pumping in my ears as he lazily toweled himself off and treated himself to a plate of jelly. My blade made a clanging sound as it struck the ground. I looked over my shoulder, alarmed. I had a feeling that he purposely injured someone I loved.
I was right.
“My Lady…” Haali whispered to me as she fell to her knees, her arms wrapped around her midsection. Her red blood ran down the front of her white robe in a perfectly vertical line. The girl servant had managed to pull Kaleek’s blade from her torso. I released a choked sob as I sprinted over to her and swept up her light form.
While cradling her like a newborn babe, I traced the outline of her face with my fingertips. The veil she wore clung to her sweaty face, which allowed me to see the shape of her upturned nose and sharp jaw line. I watched the fabric around her mouth rise and fall with increasing quickness as she struggled to hang on. I leaned over, pressed my lips to her forehead, and thanked her. She had unknowingly given me a gift. It wasn’t long before the last breath came and went.
“Why do you get so attached, Sellovet? She was just a servant. You’ll get another.” Kaleek’s deep, earthy voice reverberated against the cushiony walls of the training room. I could hear the satisfaction in his tone. He thought he won.
I stood up and curled my fingers into fists. When I turned around to face him, I transformed into the unfeeling monster I was expected to be. In a matter of seconds, the air was forced from Kaleek’s lungs and he was left gasping as he staggered backwards a few steps. I knew how to break bones and how to make the pain last. I was well acquainted with all the pressure points and major arteries. I was a killing machine. I was bred for this.
I wrestled Kaleek to the floor and pinned his strong arms with my knees. My eyes brightened and my body burned as I drove my fists into his beautiful face. The servants stood stock still, waiting for me to finish. I punched and punched until the rage drained out of me. The repetitiveness of the attack was strangely soothing.
When I completed the deed, I looked down and considered Kaleek’s corpse. I was incapable of conjuring feelings of love for him. All I felt was emptiness, utter emptiness. His glowing brain matter was splattered all over the floor, I marveled at it as if it were an abstract painting. Like clockwork, a group of three or four servants glided forward to clean up the destruction.
I retired to my bedroom, a shell of a person, and sat at the window for hours and hours. When I rose from the chair, I moved closer to the window and studied my tear streaked countenance in its reflection. The city lights were winking at me in the distance, enticing me. I pressed my hand against the glass and stared hard at the faraway metropolis. The next thing I knew, I was punching through the glass.
Ashley Barry has written for Paste Magazine, Gadgette, The Mary Sue, FemHype, Luna Luna Magazine, Kill Screen, Bitch Flicks, and Not Your Mama’s Gamer. She loves strong female protagonists, engrossing narratives, ambitious people, the occult, and tacos. She also runs a YouTube channel called Hyrule Hyrulia. Her channel features discussions with Ashly Burch (Life is Strange), Patrick Klepek (Kotaku), Nina Freeman (Cibele), and more.