Happy Wednesday everyone. Halfway there. What better way to celebrate than reading some more Jade? Reading it while drinking a beer, that’s what. Like last week, today’s installment is another chapter from another character. Enjoy!
Chapter 7 The Emperor
The Emperor sat at a desk, alone in his room except for a single candle that burned next to him. On the desk sat a piece of paper, snow white, unmarked, free from folds and creases. It was perfect-laying motionless, and waiting. Waiting for words. For ink. For the Emperor to mar its surface. The Emperor knew this. He knew what he wanted to write. Needed to write. And, he knew that by doing so, he would have to obliterate the pure, white surface of the paper.
“That is what I am good at, is it not?” He spoke aloud to himself and, to no one at the same time. With a shake of his head, he picked up a quill and dipped it into an ink pot. The ink was a deep green, almost black, glistening like a darkened emerald in the candlelight. Holding the quill over the paper, he watched his hand tense, fingers flexing in and out. The plume of the quill trembled slightly, awaiting his words. But there were none. The page remained clean. He sat, motionless, as minutes passed. The candle shrank, wax bubbling over the silver tray that it sat on. A storm descended onto the palace, bursts of icy wind ravaging the windows of his room. He ignored it. Closing his eyes, he concentrated. On something, anything to write. He needed to. This was his one chance. His hazy opportunity to document his personal hell.
“Why do i hesitate?” He thought to himself, annoyance beginning to darken his face. “What is stopping me? Why can I not do this? Why?” A spasm of anger coursed through him, his hand tightening into a fist around the quill. He could feel it strain against his palm, and he knew that it would snap at any moment, ending his night without anything to show for it. He snapped his eyes shut, trying to force down the anger. Slowly, as if fighting some mammoth force, his hand relaxed, and he felt the quill straighten against his fingers.
He opened his eyes and looked down at the paper. A drop of green had fallen from the quill and splattered across the paper, inky veins of green spreading out from the drop. The emperor’s eyes widened at the sudden shock of color, before narrowing in fury as he looked at the paper’s sudden imperfection. With a low growl, he placed the tip of the quill against the sheet and began to write.
“My earliest memories are of the winter months. I was always fascinated with snow. Not falling snow, but the blanket of white perfection that would cover the hills and trees and rivers of the family farm. I would wake up with the sun and walk outside to watch the golden rays spill over the powdery shroud. I remember how my heart would surge and leap as the light glinted off of each individual crystals of ice that made up the sea before me. Tears would fall from my eyes at the simple, beautiful purity of snow.
I dream about it, the snow. Every dream begins with a field, or a hill, or patch of forest, draped in a fresh layer of white. I stand in the middle of the scene, captivated and unable to move. It is never fear that renders me motionless, but rather a will to avoid defiling the perfection that surrounds me. I do not know if the will is my own, or if it comes from an unseen force, but its power over me is absolute. I cannot talk, move, blink. Even breathing feels like a sin. It is a prison of pristine beauty, trapping me with the knowledge of my potential corruption. How long I stand there, I never know. It is not important. The sun rises and falls around me. The wind brushes against my face. Birds sing in the distance, but I stand for eternity amongst a field of white.”
The Emperor lifted his hand from the paper, reading over his words as he dipped the quill back into the ink pot. With the slightest of nods, he set the quill back against the page.
“Eventually snow begins to fall, soft and light as powder. It settles upon my face, sticking to my eyes and my nose, dusting my hair. It makes me happy, but I dare not smile. It tickles me, a gentle touch against my face like a mother caressing her newborn child. It is the physical representation of bliss, that snow.” He paused, closing his eyes tight, a vein in his temple beginning to throb.
“It is at this point, without fail, the dream changes. Every night, the winds grow stronger. The skies darken, changing from clear blue to angry grey. The snow falls harder. The flakes begin to sting and slice against my skin. They are sharp, cutting me like diamond chips. The storm batters me, wears at me. I dare not shield my face, or close my eyes, or cry out for help. I know, deep within my soul, any movement would bring down a wrath too terrible to imagine. But, inevitably, I break. My body betrays my mind and I blink. An insignificant act, but it is enough. I dared to move, to aid in the defilement of that paradise. And I know, with my entire being, I know that the end has come. The wind always stops, the skies turn blue again, and all sound disappears. There are no birds, no rustling of leaves. There is only a deep, low rumble that I feel in my chest.”
The Emperor stopped, rubbing his free hand over his eyes. Tears wet his fingers, yet he paid them no mind as he returned to his writing.
“The rumble grows. Like the sound of a distant waterfall. It is muted and ominous, and fills me with dread even though the world around me is bright and perfect.” Again, he paused, tears flowing freely down the sides of his face.
” And then…madness. All around me, the snow begins to rot. It splits and shatters and decays before my eyes. The land heaves and cracks, opening fissures from which geysers of rancid steam billow up and cover the ground with a thick, yellow fog. In the distance, hills collapse in on themselves, adding a great, crashing thunder to the chorus of destruction that roars around me. And then, a piercing shriek fills my ears, forcing me to lift my eyes. Above me, the sky fractures, a great rupture running across the blue. The crack widens, and I am blinded by a dark so bright it makes me weep. It is indescribable. The light is white and black. Solid and ethereal. It burns and it soothes. It casts a shadow over the land that reveals every corrupted root and stem and seed and stone. It is wrong. Immensely wrong. The light- it should not exist. Cannot exist. But it always shines above me, spilling out of the crack like blood hemorrhaging from a wound. The air grows hot and melts the dead snow, searing my lungs and forcing me to my knees in agony. My mind aches at the enormity of impossible that fills my head. It is always at this instant that He arrives.” The Emperor’s hands trembled, and his breath was ragged as his thoughts poured from him.
“The sounds of the scene rage all around but, over my shoulder, I hear a horse snort and scuff the dead grass. Chains rattle as heavy feet hit the ground and approach. My eyes are forced open, though I cannot see. Impossible colors flash through my blindness, but my vision is obscured. He laughs, a sound full of hellish mirth and decaying ecstasy. He knows he has invaded my sanctuary. He has destroyed the bastion of peaceful sanity that I shield myself with. How long He laughs I never know, but eventually it stops, and He speaks to me in a voice that is impossibly low. It is the breath of a tangible specter. It is the moaning wails of the tormented and damned, and it flows from His tongue like liquid pestilence. His words…”
With a sob, the Emperor pulled his hand from the paper, eyes closed tight against his final thoughts. He had to finish, but the strain to do so was almost unbearable. Tears fell from the tips of his moustache, splashing against the paper below. A choking wail escaped his throat, hissing between clenched teeth. His face flushed a deep scarlet, and beads of sweat ran down his skin, mixing with his tears. With a final, desperate effort, he forced his hand back onto the paper, growling out of both fear and self loathing. In a halting, almost illegible scrawl, the quill scratched over the paper.
“His words are always the same. Welcome to my kingdom…”
With a trembling hand, the Emperor sat the quill next to the paper. Motionless, he stared ahead, unblinking as his tears slowly ceased and dried upon his cheeks. After countless minutes of silence, he blinked, eyes closing and opening slowly. He felt drained, emptied, scourged. But, as weary as he was, a rare sense of fulfillment settled deep within his chest. Though it was exhausting, his nightly self chronicles were, if nothing else, his only means of freedom.
He shook his head, drawing in a deep, shuddering breath. Turning, he watched the candle flicker over the last lumpy chunks of wax. He stood, grabbed the silver candle tray and walked over to a massive mirror on the other side of the room. His steps were long and silent, and he stared at his shadowy reflection as he approached the mirror. Setting the tray down on the teak chest in front of the mirror, he stared at himself, face blank and impassive. From behind the glass, his reflection stared back in perfect mimicry.
“Do not look at me, Beast. You have stared for a lifetime. Give me a night’s respite.”
His reflection was unmoved, its eyes locked on the Emperor’s.
“Why me? Why did you choose to torment me?”
His reflection remained silent, a small grin crossing its face.
“Do not smile at me, Beast! I am the Dragon! Why do I suffer you? I am the most powerful man in the world! Leave, or know demise!”
His reflection began to laugh. A slight chuckle at first, but it grew. Louder and louder, filling the room, echoing against the corners of the ceiling. The laughter crashed against the Emperor’s ears, sending his heart racing as fury surged through his veins. With a roar, he smashed his fist into the mirror. Shards of shattered glass burst around his knuckles, destroying his reflection and extinguishing the candle. Trembling, he withdrew his hand from the remains of the mirror. His hand bled from dozens of cuts, sending rivers of red to pour down his palm. He ignored the pain. In fact, he didn’t feel anything, except for a subtle euphoria that began to settle over him. He smiled. His legs grew weak and he sank to his knees, but the smile remained affixed across his face. He peered around the room and spoke to the darkness that seemed to pulse around him.
“I am free. Sweet silence.”
You will never be free…
“No! You are not here now. If you were, I would see you, and slay you again!” The Emperor’s voice was a growl.
I am always here. In your mind. In your heart. In your soul. Just as I always have, and just as I always will be…
“No. I am the Dragon. My enemies tremble before me.”
But I am not your enemy, am I? Have I not given you the strength to fight your battles? The fury to fuel your conquest? Have I not given you power?
“Yes. No! No, you have haunted me!” The Emperor fell silent, cradling his hand in the dark. It had suddenly begun to throb in fiery pain.
Without me, there is no Dragon. There is no Emperor. Without me, you would have nothing. Without me, you would be nothing…
“Stop it, please…” The Emperor began to sob.
I am the greatness within you. I am the power within you. I am you…
“No, no…please. I don’t want this anymore.” The Emperor fell forward onto the floor, drawing his knees to his chest as much as his immense size allowed him. He wanted to be alone, as he had for his entire life. But, he had never been allowed to know the freedom of solitude. His demon was within him, and had been since his earliest memories. The Emperor knew this. His own mind had turned against him the day he was born. He had learned to withdraw from himself over the years, to hide within a small, dark shadow in his thoughts that permitted him to have a few hours of peaceful sanity every now and then. But that time was miniscule compared to the rest of his life- the time he spent as a prisoner within himself.
Shoulders heaving as he lay across the floor, his head throbbed against the darkness that flooded into the void left by the absence of his thoughts. Eventually, he succumbed to exhaustion, sleeping through the remaining hours of the night before the pain in his hand forced his eyes open. The storm outside had diminished over night, leaving a thin crust of ice over the windows. His first sight was of sunlight, shattered into a myriad of colors by the frozen prisms etched across the glass. He winced, grimacing at the light. Slowly, he rose to his knees, joints screaming in stiffened agony. Clenching his jaw, he stood, staggering to his feet before he shook his head from side to side, clearing the haze from his mind. His chest heaved from exertion, and his hand felt like a boulder attached to the end of his arm. He looked down at it, frowning. It was swollen and throbbing- black and blue over a stain of blotchy red and dried blood. He picked a shard of glass from his finger, flicking it over his shoulder as he gazed at the remains of the mirror. Memories of the previous night flashed through his mind. He remembered pain, his sobs, his demon staring back at him. He saw the paper, his words in green staining its white purity. He saw the snowy field of his dreams, rupturing under a cracked sky. His lip curled into a snarl, eyes narrowing as he was repressed back within his mind. Turning, he straightened his tunic and walked toward the door. As his hand gripped the handle, he stopped and spoke to himself.
“Remember, all that you have is through me.” He shook his head, his face awash in rage, and wrenched the door open. He emerged into the royal hall, spying a servant watering the flowers.
“You! My mirror broke last night. Replace it or I will send your head to your wife!” The color drained from the servant as the Emperor turned. He walked from the hall and roared for wine, his demon assuming total control once more.