The new caretaker was the worst.
She was neither sensible nor bright, and treated Luca like a kid. Luca dreaded being called “Young Master” by her every time. But he coped with it. Since she was blind, as long as Luca seemed to be acting obediently, she couldn’t tell what he was really doing.
Half a year had passed since the incident. Luca was now 11 years old.
Luca did not remember his birthday celebration very well. He only recalled sitting there receiving words of congratulation from his father and subordinates, and brooding over his mother’s absence. Normally, his mother would be the first to congratulate him “Happy Birthday, Luca!”
When his last baby teeth fell out, he reminisced about Mariel. It was always Mariel who would chant an incantation and throw his teeth out. Awaiting her return, Luca placed his baby teeth in a box. Even without the incantation, Luca grew splendid teeth.
Luca found a new hobby.
It was a mere coincidence at first. Luca struck down flies that flew by. Even without exerting too much force, they went down fast. Taking the life of something that was alive only moments ago became a source of pleasure for Luca. He possessed the power to kill insects; knowing that an insect’s life and death all depended on his mood made him feel like he could do anything.
He eventually took on spiders, butterflies, and beetles—his targets gradually increased in magnitude. Although birds, rabbits, and dogs resisted, he would fall into a daze while tormenting them; and upon regaining consciousness, he would find them in pieces. Seeing the awful bloodstained rabbit leg consumed him with feelings of guilt, but he could never forget the incredible ecstasy he felt whenever he went into a daze, and so could never stop the practice.
The assailants from that night were still loose. Some went as far as saying they might not even be in the vicinity of the Highland Kingdom anymore. Of course, his father relaxed on the throne, giving orders; while taking no action himself. That was way no way to catch criminals. Even Luca himself was capturing and killing animals by his own hand; the fact that his father couldn’t do the same was pathetic.
Luca now knew where his mother was, having found out from the caretaker’s careless prattle. She was in a royal villa in the town of Kyaro, the same place they visited every summer.
Now aware of his mother’s whereabouts, Luca made preparations to slip out of the castle. Lengthening his hair, readying aged garments, gathering food, retrieving an escape rope; in doing everything he could, Luca even tied his own personal pony in a different spot from the other horses.
On the day he finally finished preparations to go meet his mother, Luca awoke before daybreak. He swiftly changed clothes, and put food and blankets into a sack. His water canteen had already been prepared a few days ago. Tying the rope to the foot of his bed, Luca opened the window wide and climbed down via the rope. Luca lay low in the thick shrubbery while heading towards his pony. He unfastened the rope, but there was no time to get a saddle. Grabbing the dagger from his waist, Luca serrated the pony’s mane, and also cut his own hair appropriately. After covering the pony and himself completely in dirt, their disguise was now complete. The guard standing watch took Luca, who dragged the pony along while trudging forward looking downwards, for one of the castle servants and let him pass.
Riding forth in this vast stretch of earth felt refreshing.
The highway was completely deserted at this early hour, it belonged to Luca alone. As he took a deep breath, the smell of autumn so strong it seemed like trees were burning pervaded his senses. About half a year had passed since he last breathed real air like this.
The weather was tranquil, neither hot nor cold. Luca’s journey proceeded smoothly. Although a few wild monsters attacked him on the way, they were no match for the well-trained Luca. Luca considered eating their corpses in order to preserve his packed food longer, but it seemed too filthy to do so.
On the eve of the following day, Luca arrived at the Tenzan Pass. After getting across the mountain pass, Kyaro would be right around the corner. Luca placed his belongings on the pony’s back and ascended the hill by foot. Since Luca had been riding on an unsaddled horse all along, his backside was hurting so much he could barely stand it.
Luca quickly began to sweat. His throat was drying up, but he had little water left. Luca persisted and moved on.
Luca stopped in his tracks as the all-too familiar voice called out to him. A carriage stopped on the pass, standing in front of it was a man with a mean glare. The man watched Luca with a smirk. Immediately deciding it would be best not to get involved, Luca quickly tried to walk away.
“Yo, are ya tryin’ to ignore me? I called out to ya outta kindness, ya know? You and your baby horse are lookin’ pretty darn tired.”
Hearing ‘horse’ prompted Luca to look at his pony, which was foaming around the mouth—it really was tired. After all, Luca didn’t feed it much water.
“How about it? I gots somethin’ good fo’ ya.”
The man fetched two light brown pears from his carriage. They may have been small; but at the same time, they looked delicious.
“They’re real good. Just one bite into ‘em and your thirst’ll be quenched instantly.”
“Can I have them?”
Without thinking, Luca was hooked in by the man’s offer.
“Yea, I’m givin’ em to ya.”
The man put the pears on both of Luca’s hands. Luca gave one to the pony and pounced on the other hungrily. The pears weren’t too sweet, but the juice relieved them of their dry throats.
“Those’re some fine pears, eh?"
The smirking man was in a very good mood.
“Yes, they were delicious. Thank you very much.”
As Luca bowed, the man held out his hand.
“The price’ll be 500 potch. I’m nettin' ya a real sweet deal here.”
“Whoa, come on now, there ain’t no such thing as a nice guy who gives away free stuff. It’s mah’ fault fo’ not tellin’ ya earlier, but I’m trying to make a livin' here too, ya know?”
Luca did not understand what the man was trying to say. Up until now, Luca had never had to give anything for food. However, Luca understood the concept of potch as money. He learned before that money serves as an intermediary in the trade of goods and generally makes commerce flow.
“I’m sorry, I do not have any money on me.”
The man’s expression changed instantly.
“Whadda ya mean ya ain’t got no money? Damn runt, ya went ahead and ate mah’ food anyway! What the hell did I give em to ya for?! If ya ain’t gonna pay up, gimme back those pears ya just ate!“
The man went into his usual intimidating disposition. Luca had never been shouted at so furiously. The man standing in front of him was terrifying.
“If only I had power, I wouldn’t let him do this,” thought Luca.
“Hey, whadda hell are ya spacin’ out fo’?! How do ya plan on payin’ me back now, huh?!”
The man grabbed Luca by the chest with great force and shook him violently. Luca lost his breath and his head was spinning, he could only tremble in fear.
“I-I understand. I’ll do anything.”
The man let go of Luca. Losing the support on his body, Luca fell headfirst into the ground. Now kicked in the midriff, a raging pain surged through Luca making it difficult for him to breathe. He seemed ready to vomit at any second.
“You shoulda just said dat from the beginning. I’ll be taking your little horsie there.”
The man grabbed the pony by the reins and fastened it to the carriage.
“I’ll at least give ya back your luggage. Ya oughta be grateful. I’m off.”
The man threw the luggage in front of Luca, and without even turning back, ascended the mountain pass.
Luca could not utter even a single word; he continued, laid on the ground, looking ahead. That pony was a gift from Luca’s parents on his seventh birthday. They had been together ever since then.
It was mortifying. Luca thought of himself as ‘worthless’. “I’ll kill you,” the thought suddenly manifested in Luca’s head, confusing him. Killing people was something that was never to be done.
Luca hanged his head down in shame as he trudged along. This was the same gait he had put on the day before as a disguise.
Luca felt much better when he reached the summit of the mountain pass. The scenic view was breathtaking. From there on, the route to his mother in Kyaro would be a descending path. Luca would badger his mother for another pony. Perhaps this time, he would get a bigger horse.
“She might scold me at first, but I’m sure she’ll be happy.”
Thinking of his mother put him in good spirits again. That day, Luca continued walking until he fell asleep.
The next day, Luca continued along the path while searching for water. He had already drunk all of his water canteen in the afternoon. After a brief stroll, he heard the slight sound of flowing water. As he walked off the main road into the forest, he found a gush of water, as thin as a piece of hair, spouting forth from among the rocks. He sunk his hand into the rocks, but couldn’t scoop up any water. There was a good amount in the spring where the water sprung from, but with all the mud and bubbles mixed in, that water didn’t look very palatable. Luca gave up, and decided to bear with it until he reached Kyaro.
As Luca turned back to the highway, the corner of his eye caught sight of a purple haze. Finding it peculiar, he approached it to find a cluster of light purple flowers about as tall as his chest; asters were growing thickly in that area.
Luca held no interest in flowers, but he at least knew the name of that one flower—they were his mother’s favorite. Every autumn, she would head out to the mountains with a few servants, and consequently decorate the castle with asters she personally picked.
“Ugh, those weedy flowers again,” Luca’s father would tease every year. To which his mom would always respond “Of course! They bring back so many great memories!” Then her face would flush bright red with a huge smile.
That face surfaced in Luca’s mind. Luca loved his mother. He wanted to see her, to embrace her tightly.
Luca plucked a few flowers as a souvenir for his mother and quickly headed back towards the highway.
It was around nightfall when Luca arrived at the villa in Kyaro. The gatekeepers did not know of Luca; even when he proclaimed his identity as Prince Luca Blight, they only snickered at him and brushed him off. With his messy hair and filthy clothing, Luca hardly resembled a Prince.
However, Luca maintained his composure. Thanks to his annual visits to this villa, he knew of the hidden passage in a certain spot on the high-reaching wall.
Luca went through the secret passage and snuck into the villa’s garden.
Although this was Luca’s first time taking in the sight of the garden in autumn, it felt different, almost depressing and lonely, without the profusely blooming flowers that always accompanied the summer season. Even the water fountain wasn’t running.
Hearing a seemingly clanking racket from the main wing, Luca turned his eyes to see his mother’s figure there.
She had become so emaciated that the hands and feet extending from her nightgown were thin as a rod. Strangely, only her stomach had grown larger. His mother’s beautiful hair was cut short, and probably because she wasn’t combing much with a brush, it had lost all manner of gloss. But without a doubt, that was definitely Luca’s mother. As his mother swayed back and forth on the rocking chair, she sang a lullaby while petting a doll.
In his unbridled exaltation, Luca’s chest began to hurt.
Luca raced towards his mother at full speed.
The moment he touched her hands, she let out a barbarous shriek and cringed by the bed. Then as if mumbling some kind of incantation, she started to pull on her hair.
“Mother, pull yourself together! It’s me, Luca!”
Luca could not understand what was going on. He wondered if she was just someone who merely resembled his mother. Believing that getting a good look at him would bring her back to her senses, he gently raised her checks with both hands. But her eyes no longer reflected the image of her son.
“Here look! These asters are your favorite!”
As he offered the bouquet to his mother, she quickly pushed it away.
Luca was devastated, his mother was afraid of him.
She was tugging on her hair so hard even parts of her skin came off. Blood flowed from her forehead. Luca tried to at least stop his mother from pulling her hair, but her fingers were clenched together too tightly. Luca hugged his crouched mother’s body with all his might. However, she only continued to waver her body and back forth mumbling some kind of chant. Luca no longer knew what to do.
At that moment, a voice called out to his mother. It appeared someone noticed a disturbance and was coming to check it out.
“Dear Sara, what’s wrong?”
The person calling out in such a playful voice was Mariel.
Luca was speechless. He never imagined his mother and Mariel would be together here.
Mariel’s grey hair had turned white, and her plump body had become so much thinner.
“Luca, why are you…?”
Mariel stood still at the sight of Luca.
“Mariel, I wanted to see you.”
Luca yearned to hug Mariel. Like old times, she’d then gently brush his head and praise him. Nevertheless, Mariel’s expression remained stiff this time.
“Why have you come here, Luca? Does your father know you’re here?”
Mariel spoke in a shaky voice.
“Father never would allow me to see mother, so I came here on my own.”
“Luca, you mustn’t be here,” said Mariel as she held up Luca’s mother and seated her back on the rocking chair.
“There’s nothing to worry about. Your mother will recover soon enough.”
As Mariel shook the chair, the strength in Sara’s tense body seemed to fade away.
“Anyway, what’s wrong with mother? Why has she become like that?”
“It all started from that assault. Dear Sara suffered a terrible shock.”
“You mean when she was ‘soiled’?”
Luca tried the word that he first heard from his father, but was always confused about, on Mariel.
Mariel hesitated for a second, then looked at Luca with determined eyes.
“Yes, that’s right. Sara was soiled by the men who attacked us that day. Sara’s life has turned to nothing ever since then. I can’t tell you how much hatred I’ve built up for them, I want to kill them."
Mariel’s face flushed dark red. Luca carved those words into his head.
“That’s right, those wretches; it’s ok to kill them, they’re better off dead.”
And thus, a clear, murderous intent was born in Luca’s mind. Mariel was so trapped in her own thoughts she didn’t concern herself with what Luca had just said.
“Sara’s heart has collapsed ever since then.”
“Collapsed? Can’t she recover? Surely, if we get her some medicine and call her a doctor—”
“There exists no medicine that cures the heart. And doctors would not be of any help.”
“Then mother’s going to be like this forever? Will she never hold me again?”
Tears flooded from Luca’s eyes. The infectious crying dampened Mariel’s eyes.
“No one knows if she will recover. She won’t even take her meal most of the time, which is why she’s become so weak. So please, Luca, just pretend we no longer exist and return to the castle.”
“No, I’m staying here too. Without mother and Mariel, I’ll be left all alone.”
Luca clung onto Mariel’s apron. But Mariel only pulled him apart.
“Luca, you are the Prince of Highland. You cannot stay here. Although I understand your loneliness, nevertheless you still have your father. Please, forget about us, and live well,” said Mariel as she looked at Luca earnestly.
“I won’t tell anyone that you were here, Luca; so before this commotion gets out of hand, please get back to the castle.”
Departing Luca with only these few words, Mariel helped his mother up and went off into the main room. Luca could do nothing but look at them. Even though the two people dearest to Luca were right there beside him, his feelings didn’t reach them. Luca’s loving mother was no longer around. Mariel’s most treasured and important person was no longer Luca. He used to think he was lonely because he couldn’t see them. But now completely destitute of their love and care, Luca felt a thousand times lonelier.
While walking down the streets of Kyaro, Luca cried. Those who caught sight of him weeping didn’t care. It was depressing.
By the time Luca stopped lamenting, he found himself standing in front of a deserted house in the outskirts of town. Luca decided to take a look inside. If there was no one inside, he planned on spending the night here.
When Luca heard voices from inside, he gave up and was about to go look for other places when he heard the words ‘Agares’ and ‘Highland,’ making him stop in his tracks. Luca went around to the side of the house; and surprisingly, there was his pony. The carriage from the day before was also there. The tree that the horse and pony were tied to was laden with pears.
“So this is where he lives.”
As if having found an emotional release for his pent-up feelings, Luca felt so much better. He would, without a doubt, feel even more refreshed if he could give the man from yesterday a good thrashing. Luca felt an infinitesimal flame light up in his chest.
“Just how long are we going to be staying cooped up in here?”
A man’s voice resonated from inside the house. It wasn’t the voice of the person from yesterday. A calmer voice followed. Luca couldn’t hear this one too well, so he put his ear by the wall.
“Darrel bettah not be tryin’ to trash us.” It was the man from yesterday this time.
“That’s impossible. If we leak out everything Darrel’s done, the entire world’s going to turn against him. If he handles it well, he’ll get off with only dismissal as mayor. Otherwise, he’ll be executed. I’m sure he’s most afraid of that happening.” The voice this time was much lower. There seemed to be at least four men in the room.
“Then why doesn’t he just send us a gate pass?” wondered the first man.
“Under Agares’ orders, until the assailants are caught, Highland’s borders are completely closed off. They’re supposedly even inspecting every postal item delivered.” This voice was from the man Luca couldn’t hear too well before. Somehow, he seemed to be the leader of the group.
Listening in on their conversation sent Luca’s heart racing. Calling his father directly by name, they couldn’t possibly have been Highland natives; nor were they mere miscreants. Perhaps they were the assailants themselves.
“But gosh, dat Agares is such a coward. After all dat’s happened to him, he still ain’t sendin’ out the troops,” snorted the man from yesterday.
“Yea, well, there goes our plan of escaping during the turmoil while they fight it out,” added a low voice.
“Aww, c’mon now, you guys all had a good time.” Their leader tried to change the subject.
“Well, that’s for sure. We’re talking about a Queen here after all. Her face and body were the absolute best, man. It’s already been half a year since then. I’m getting really tired of cramping up in here,” spoke the first man.
“Ahh, about dat Queen, word is dat she couldn’t stay in dah castle and is in dis town right now. She’s must be feelin’ really lonely sleepin’ alone, you know? We oughta go play wit her sometimes.” Everyone cheered in agreement with the man from yesterday.
“I bet y’all she’ll be welcoming us with open arms.”
They all suddenly laughed at the first man’s quip. Unable to take in their vulgar laughs, Luca covered his ears. He finally understood the meaning of ‘soiled’. His mother was touched by their disgusting, filthy hands. They stained Luca’s beautiful mother.
Luca could feel the boiling blood in his entire body flow in reverse. In his turbulent rage, the blood vessels connected to Luca’s eyes came apart, causing him to see only red. With his whole body convulsing violently, breathing became difficult. The rumbling flame in his chest wildly flared up.
“I’m gonna…kill…you… KILL YOU! DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE!”
While muttering the curse, Luca headed back to the front of the house and gripping the door knob firmly, opened it with all his might.
“What the, who the hell?”
Upon entering, the dining room straight ahead housed all four men. Since they were all drunk, their faces were bright red. The men all stood up together at the same instant; but they sat down as their fears were relieved upon seeing that Luca was but a mere child.
“Well, here we were, wondering who it could possibly be, and in comes barging the lil’ runt from yesterday. Sup kiddo, ya here to take back yo’ pony?”
The man from yesterday spoke with a chuckle. Luca ignored him and approached the men.
As his dagger landed on the neck of the man sitting in front, Luca twisted it sideways. Immediately after the dreadful sensation, blood gushed forth like a water fountain. The man bellowed out the same peculiar sound he always made whenever his throat was tangled with phlegm.
His squirting blood painted the walls and ceilings, and even the faces of the remaining men, deep red. Taking advantage of their horrified state, Luca quickly picked up the long sword from the ground that the now dead man just dropped. This was Luca’s prime weapon of choice.
Luca got into position and charged at the men.
It was too easy, perhaps because they were drunk; yet, they were all so fragile. Handling the sword was easy since he focused entirely on attacking, paying no heed to his own defenses. Up until now, Luca had only crossed swords with his master, so he had no idea typical humans were such weaklings. Nor was he aware of the tremendous power he possessed.
For some reason, seeing their dead bodies roused unusual feelings of excitement and pleasure in Luca. Just the thought that their life and death depended solely on his mood made him feel omnipotent. Humans, insects, animals—they were all the same. With power, they could all be killed. There was no longer anything to be afraid of.
Before he realized it, Luca went into that same daze that befell him whenever he slaughtered animals. Luca returned to his senses to find himself, covered in blood, sitting on the floor, trying to pull apart the arms and legs of one of the corpses. This one was really plump, cutting through his fat proved to be quite a task. There now remained only one man standing.
“I-I’m sorry. You can have yo’ pony back. Just don’t kill me, please.”
The now teary-eyed man from yesterday looked at Luca, from a kneeling position. He was trying to escape by inching away on his guts; Luca could clearly see the tracks the man was making on the floor. Still clinging to life after tumbling to such a rueful state was pathetic.
Since Luca felt like it, he pierced through the man’s chest.
While the morning light still shone, Luca left the house covered in blood.
He thought Mariel might be happy to see their heads; but as she had instructed him, Luca decided to return to the castle. Facing the Tenzan Pass, Luca paced straight ahead. His small steps soon broke into a run, then into a full sprint.
Having gotten as far as the forest, Luca stumbled upon the root of a large tree. With his face buried in the ground, some dirt got into his mouth. Forgetting to bring his pony along and merely running around wildly, Luca could not help but want to laugh. But what came out instead were tears. Realizing this, he raised his voice and cried. With nothing to fear anymore, why did he cry? Even Luca could not fathom his own emotions.
But there were two things Luca now clearly understood. One being that he had completely changed. The flame in his heart would never again die out. And no matter what it is he would see in the future, everything would appear differently. After all, he was now a ‘murderer’. And he liked that.
Unexpectedly waking up, Luca found the sky burning red, entrenched in a crimson flame. He had fallen asleep earlier and woke up at dusk.
Feeling thirsty, Luca kneeled by a nearby puddle of water and guzzled it all down. It was the same puddle of water he felt too unclean to drink the day before.
Thinking back, Luca could see a purple haze at the ends of his eyes. This was where Luca picked asters as a souvenir for his mother yesterday.
Luca stood up and headed towards the cluster of asters; illuminated by the setting sun, they were as beautiful as ever. Luca drew his blood-smeared dagger and cut down the flowers. With a dry swishing sound, the flowers fell to the ground. More flowers fell as he swung his arm again. Luca screamed aloud as he proceeded to obliterate the flowers and trample over them with his foot.
Standing alone in these devastated wastelands, Luca screamed out fiercely at the top of his lungs.
Luca turned around to see a soldier kneeling in front of him. With a terrified expression, seeing Luca’s blade dripping with blood, he dared not look up. The surroundings were getting dark, the hill that Luca stained red were becoming accustomed to the red color of the setting sun.
The humans that were in front of him had stopped breathing. It seems like Luca swung his sword around while caught up in past memories. He committed a regrettable act.
Luca now understood the full situation. The ones who attacked them that day were hired by Darrel. Full-scale war didn’t break out between Highland and the Jowston City-States because there was no concrete proof. But just as Darrell had hoped for, it was as if the cease-fire agreement had never happened. The incident caused Luca’s mother to go pregnant. As a proud woman, she went mad amidst the humiliation, and gave birth to Jillia before dying. His mother’s wet nurse also sacrificed herself for that.
“Umm, we’ve received a message from Lord Gorudo of the Matilda Knights.”
Luca visualized Gorudo’s tubby, sly face. He resembled Darrel. It was a great pity that Darrel died before Luca had the chance to slay him. However, Luca could perform even more interesting feats by manipulating Gorudo. Furthermore, that man was still in the royal capital. The pathetic coward who abandoned Luca and his mother. For the next 17 years, not a single day passed without Luca plotting to bring about his end. And that day was not too far off.
“I’m going now.”
Luca fluttered his cape, and descended the Jowston Hill.