Archived: The Last Light by Emma Serrano

“Care for some tea?” a small cup was placed in front of Anthony, the motion breaking him from his momentary trance, “It’s honeybush tea. I made it myself.”

Anthony glanced between steaming the cup and the silver-haired male sitting across from him, “No, thank you.” he replied, slightly pushing the cup away to instate his decline further.

“Not a fellow enjoyer of tea?” the male sighed, “Or are you perhaps used to having the servants eat your meals in front of you as proof of no poison being found?”

Despite not saying anything in response, Anthony watched him pour himself a full cup of tea and drink it carefully. Was he seriously trying to prove to him that the tea was not poisoned? It’s not like Anthony was seriously concerned over such a trivial matter; he wasn’t in the mood for tea. However, to spare any further small talk, Anthony decidedly went along and drank his fill. He can’t remember the last time he had honeybush tea. The taste of honey remains the same, but he can also taste a hint of vanilla and cinnamon in this particular brew. A pleasant flavor indeed. He can imagine his younger sister, Amelia, having this brew at one of the tea parties she would hold every spring back in the palace. Although Anthony never attended one, his sister always made him taste the tea and desserts she would give her guests the day before for a second opinion. Suffice it to say, and this caused him to have a sweet tooth.

“Taste good, right?” the male inquired, smirking in a rather triumphant matter, “I happen to know a thing or two about tea brewing. I could probably even make a living in the market with this skill. But I’d end up stealing every other vendor’s loyal customers.”

Anthony continued drinking.

“Although if you ask me, I wouldn’t mind stealing River’s flock of customers. That old fossil has scammed me too many times. Suppose it wasn’t for his sickly wife. In that case, I’d have exposed him to the whole market district.”

If he realized he’s been scammed many times, why hasn’t he ever considered buying from another vendor? The cup is now empty.

“…Not much of a talker, are you?”

“If you brought me here to simply fantasize about your future tea brewing empire, then you should have picked up one of those drunkards from the streets,” Anthony said, placing the cup down and leaning back into his chair.

“And miss the chance to talk with the crowned prince himself? I think I’ll pass.”

Now that’s a title he hadn’t heard in a while.

Before this conversation, Anthony had been walking through the city’s market district in search of anyone who had intel on obtaining train tickets that lead out of the country. He turned to vendors, tavern owners, and even brokers to gain even the tiniest information but was constantly reaching a dead end in his endeavors. Then came Aries into the picture, which Anthony had foolishly mistaken to be a ticket salesman. He had managed to successfully lure Anthony to some vacant alleyway with the claim that he had the tickets he was looking for but that the exchange needed to be somewhere private, less the two should get caught by the guards.

Once the two were utterly alone, the ambush happened as Anthony became surrounded by several hooded figures that knocked him out cold. By the time he woke up, he had found himself locked in a room with Aries, casually standing by the fireplace with a book in his hands, waiting for him to regain consciousness. As much as it pains Anthony to admit it, Aries was well prepared. Not only did he have the exact train tickets bound for the neighboring nation, but he was aware that Anthony was in desperate need of them. This reveals that Aries has been eyeing the crown prince for some time. For how long exactly? Who knows. All Anthony knew was that he was dealing with no ordinary man.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” Anthony questioned coldly. Still, the latter remained unfazed at his shift in tone.

An arm is extended out, accompanied by a mischievous smile, “The name’s Aries. Delighted to make your acquaintance Crown Prince of the Aurelian Empire. It is truly an honor.”

Even as the two shake hands, after several moments of hesitance from Anthony, he can’t help but find the complacent look on Aries’ face deceitful. He didn’t look to be that strong. Perhaps he could knock him out cold and escape through the nearby window? No, that wasn’t good; he has no clue far below the ground remains. Could he break down the door? No, that would potentially alert anyone standing nearby. Then maybe he should–

Aries suddenly held up the two tickets he had used before, “Two one-way tickets to Port Eden…” he spoke, briefly examining the pieces of paper and waving one of them towards Anthony, “If my guess is correct, this other ticket must’ve been for the princess Amelia.”

Anthony’s eyes followed Aries as he rose from his chair and walked over to the fireplace, giving the tickets one last look before throwing them. At that exact moment, Anthony had jolted out of his seat to try and stop Aries from committing such an act, but it was too late. Both men silently watched as the tickets reduced to ash, but for Anthony, it was like watching his entire future burn away. “You know, when I first heard rumors circulating the streets that the two of you were alive, I laughed. The aristocracy made it clear to everyone that the royal family and anyone connected to them hadn’t been executed. Ending the era of magic and beginning the era of machinery.”

Aries glanced over to Anthony. An expression of distraught and frustration in the light from the flames that rose along with his anger at the blatant mention of the aristocracy and executions. It appears this conversation topic does not sit well with him. Not that Aries blames him, of course.

Were the circumstances different from how they stood now, he would’ve shown some sympathy to the crowned prince, as would every citizen of the Empire. In their eyes, the fall of the Imperial family was a heavy loss, and the calamity that befell the entire country afterward was like putting salt in the wound. The Empire was like a garden that the Emperor diligently watered every day. In return, the people made it beautiful, heavenly almost. Then came the aristocracy. Power-hungry individuals who wanted nothing more than to seize the throne. They uprooted everything, tossing even the most elegant roses aside to wither and rot. What was once a prosperous garden suddenly became a clockwork factory, polluting the air and causing soils to become barren, making it impossible to grow even the smallest sprouts.

“…So, I take it you’ve come for my head in exchange for a generous reward from those aristocratic swines?” Anthony retorted, glaring daggers at the male beside him as his patience grew thinner by the minute.

Aries chuckled, “If I truly wanted to harm you, you’d be long dead by now.”

“Confident in your skills, are you?”

“I wouldn’t be so ignorant if I were you, your highness. After all, I managed to trick a grand royal like yourself into following me here. And all it took was two pieces of paper.”

He’s never going to let that down.

“However, if you were to threaten me with this,” an unsheathed sword echoes throughout the room, alarming Anthony momentarily. The vibrant flames of the fireplace reflect upon the blade of the sword, its edge trimmed in pure gold that glints in the light, along with the hilt that held the most eye-catching design, “then perhaps, I’d be at your mercy.”

“Where did you get that…?” Anthony questioned, hands instinctively reaching out to the sword that was pulled away from him at the same time.

“So it is the real thing? I’ll admit, I thought River was really pulling my leg with this one saying it was a sacred heirloom of the imperial family.” Aries said nonchalantly, admiring the craftsmanship of the sword in awe. He casually swung the sword around, unable to contain the grin on his face as he looked toward the prince, “But from the look on your face, it seems my doubts were in vain.”

The Sword of Illume–an heirloom passed on within the imperial family for generations, specifically to those next in line for the throne. Although to some, it may appear as just a regular sword with an exquisite and elegant design, it held greater hidden power. For centuries, the family devoted themselves to learning the art of sword and magic. At first, both teachings were separate from one another. It was up to the crowned heirs to decide which form of art they would devote themselves to learning. But as the years went by, the two could eventually be combined into one form of teaching. Very few have been able to master this specific practice of using magic within swordplay. In fact, most had difficulties controlling the two.

The adrenaline and lust for blood on the battlefield, combined with the overwhelming sensation of magic flowing within the veins, can quickly become a catalyst for disaster. There was even a point when an Emperor had gone mad with such power, going on an endless killing spree. But most records from that time were burnt long ago. Despite knowing this, though, Anthony had devoted himself to learning its teachings, consisting of daily meditation, spell casting, and practicing sword techniques. He showed rapid improvement during his entire training, which only lasted for several months. Before he knew it, his father was already bestowing him the Sword of Illume with honor and trust.

Therefore, seeing such an item that he was convinced was lost that night of the palace siege rendered him speechless.

For months, Anthony felt a heavy guilt for letting such a thing slip from his grasp. He thought he had let down generations of talented swordsmen and resilient leaders. Amelia would constantly try to reassure him of his worries. While he was thankful for his sister’s continuous support and concern, it was never enough to lift that burden off his shoulders.

“Don’t worry, your highness, I don’t plan on stealing this from you. In fact, it’s all yours. However, in return, I ask for one small favor.” Staring directly into Anthony’s eyes, Aries held the sword towards him, his signature grin reaching from ear to ear, “Help me overthrow the aristocracy.”

The room fell silent for a few seconds before Anthony let out an airy laugh, “Overthrow the aristocracy? Are you insane?” he questioned, shaking his head slightly, “What would you have me do, fall to my knees and beg them to give me the Empire back? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re merely asking for a death wish.”

“Are you once again doubting my abilities, your highness?”

“I’ve doubted you since the beginning. Don’t give yourself too much credit.”

“Then tell me, your highness, what do you plan to do from here on out?” Aries challenges, the playful look on his face now replaced with a serious one catching Anthony off-guard, “Since the beginning, all you’ve been doing is running away. Running away from your duty as a prince and from your responsibilities, you even want to fall off the map completely by escaping to live the remainder of your life in a foreign nation. I wonder…what would your father think?”

“Don’t you dare mention my father or even speak to me as if you know what I’ve been through.” Anthony sneered, turning away from Aries with disdain.

“But I will because clearly, no one else will do so if I don’t.”

The silence was all that was returned.

“You have a choice, your highness. You can either decline my offer and walk out of this building with a damaged pride and no sword or…you can accept and take revenge against those who stripped you of your former glory and family.”

“A choice? Sounds to me like you intend to make me accept by force.”

“I’m merely stating a fact.”