The Broken Soul: Promises and War - Part Two
Under his small, worn cot, there was a chest full of treasure.
There were clothes of silk folded tenderly and tucked away into the caverns of the wooden chest beneath his cot, on top of which lay a variety of golden jewelry and an almost pompous headdress. Woven into this different materials were the same colors: yellow, blue, and brown. They were tokens of a past that seemed like a far off echo now, and so they were rightfully buried under the place where he slept, safe but hopefully soon forgotten.
Or, at least, he’d hoped to forget them, but they were a pesky memory, as ever-present as the six-armed scarab tattooed on his upper arm. They would never leave, and, though he had travelled very far to leave them behind, they would keep returning. Too much of his past kept resurfacing for him to hide from it.
Even here, at the peaks of Shenkuu, it found him. It didn’t matter that he’d changed his appearance, that he hid his tattoo, or even that he changed his name. The alias of Tyrin seemed flimsy to him now, though he’d successfully hidden under that name for several months now.
He couldn’t escape Cove Macduff: his former self, the once-upon-a-time king. It was a name that had greatly impacted so many, and he couldn’t remember if he had ever wanted it to.
Even though his escape into the wilderness had left many in harm’s way, they continued to fight for him and search for him, and this made it impossible to forget who he was when so many others were sacrificing. Even the lowly field servant from days previous had spoken his name in reverence, had shown him a tattoo he’d had printed on his body just to show his support.
Did they know they were supporting a failure?
He couldn’t go back and defeat Mahyla. He couldn’t reclaim his throne in the Lost Desert, in the small slab of land called the Draik’s Claw that he knew as home. It just wasn’t that easy. Not unless he wanted the truth to be known, and that might very well be the only way to rid Neopia of Mahyla. It was unfortunate that he was incapable—by pride and humiliation both—to speak that truth.
Cove stared dejectedly at his sandy-toned claw—the true color of a Lost Desert creature—and tried not to think of how, sitting on his cot, he was sitting on top of the chest that contained an identity he was afraid to become again.
Somewhere out there, Sarevor, the brave Usul musketeer and once his former guard, was looking for him. Somehow, he’d amassed hundreds of followers already. How long before they found him? Would he be able to avoid spilling the truth of why he had fled when they did?
No, and that was why there was only one clear answer: he had to flee deeper into the wilderness of Neopia, into the uncharted lands where he’d live uncivilized and alone. There, he wouldn’t have to worry about someone spotting his treacherous tattoo, or recognizing his fate, or noticing, even, that he walked with the same princely gait as Cove Macduff had. He wouldn’t even have to reassume the alias of Tyran. He would be nameless and alone.
It was decided. And though he tried so hard to hide from who he was, the only thing Cove left his mountain home in Shenkuu with was the small chest that had been hidden under his bed. Tucked in a pack, it was slung over his shoulder: his only burden to carry.
The venture down the mountains was, perhaps, more perilous than the journey upward had been. With each step he took, rock crumbled and slid from underneath his feet, causing Cove, at times, to slide down a few feet before he would regain his footing, grabbing hold of some scraggily, strong mountain plant to upright himself. Several times he cursed the weight on his back for setting him off balance, but it was his punishment to carry. One that was self-inflicted.
When Cove finally managed to meet level ground at the base of one mountain, he was greeted by the sight of a green expanse of field. What looked like tall grass growing and billowing in the wind was a type of plant native to Shenkuu that farmers planted and harvested yearly. Cove ran his claws through the waist-high crop as he thanked the flat ground he walked on.
He was still in Shenkuu—the oriental architecture of the farm house sitting on the ground of this field proved that—but within another hour or so, he would be outside of the boundaries and disappearing into the unknown. Only then could he be certain that he had truly shed any fragment of his old self that was left.
Still, he’d grown slightly attached to the freedom of Shenkuu. There were so few walls here, and the homes and buildings were constructed a pleasant distance from one another, allowing a glorious amount of privacy that Cove had not been used to. He’d enjoyed basking in the lack of restrain mixed with the intellectual atmosphere of Shenkuu.
Because of this, Cove ventured through this last field at a leisurely pace, taking the time to drink in his last taste of Shenkuu—maybe even his last taste of civilization altogether.
The sun was warm. The air, though dense, was pleasant, and—
Someone yelled in protest, cutting into Cove’s thoughts. He glanced upward, shading his eyes with a claw, and saw a figure stumbling forward from around the side of the house he’d noticed earlier. He recognized the figure of the farmer—Elric, the Shoyru— he’d worked with days before, the one who’d almost recognized his tattoo, and he was just beginning to raise his free hand in a wave when two other figures stepped out from around the house.
They were considerably larger than the farmer, burly, and imposing even from this distance. Cove couldn’t be quite sure, but he thought the one now shoving his farming friend in the chest looked like a Mynci, while the one standing slightly back might have been a Lupe.
He could hear them shouting, though he couldn’t tell what they were shouting about. From the strain in their voices and the rigid stance of their postures, Cove thought they must be having a heated argument.
And then the Mynci stepped slightly to the left, out from underneath the shadowed awning of the farmer’s home, and Cove saw metal reflect in the sunlight. The Mynci was dressed in a soldier’s armor.
His gut reaction was to go to his friend, to see what was going on, and to help the farmer if he could. Surely these two brutes couldn’t really be soldiers. Soldiers didn’t treat civilians in such a manner, Cove knew, and, when the Mynci took the liberty of shoving the farmer to the ground, Cove grew even more outraged.
He started to take a step forward, and then stopped.
What was he doing? If he went to his friend’s rescue, and if those guards were—somehow—truly soldiers, they might recognize him, and then the game was up. There would be no fleeing into the wilderness. Too many Neopians were looking for him, for either the intent of the Scarab Army, or for what he was certain was a price put on his head by Mahyla.
But even though he’d tried to stifle it, there was still an old part of himself that lingered. A part that was filled with indignant rage at the sight of an innocent civilian being treated in such a way. He would have never allowed it!
Without truly thinking it through, or even knowing that he was doing so, Cove broke into a jog, hurrying over to the scene just as the Lupe was joining into the game of harassing the farmer.
Everyone looked up, spotting him. Confusion from the guards, and a strange expression of relief on Elric’s face that looked a lot like guilt.
“Hey!” Cove shouted again, though no one had moved. “What do you think you’re doing?”
He attempted to go to his friend, but the Mynci, large and covered in red fur and the stench of sweat, stepped into his path.
“Mind your own business, pal. This is official business here.”
Cove recoiled slightly at the rancid smell of the Mynci’s breath—when was the last time the creature had even bathed?—and barely contained himself from snapping off that he was in charge of official business, and so this was, in fact, his business. A momentary lapse in time; he’d almost forgotten that he was pretending not to be a king anymore.
Instead, he demanded, “And that gives you the right to push him around?”
“No,” the Mynci growled, taking a threatening step forward and bumping Cove so roughly with his chest that the Draik staggered back a step.
“This,” the Mynci snapped, rapping a paw to his chest plate, “gives me the right to push him around.”
Glowering at the Mynci, Cove reluctantly glanced at the Mynci’s armor, and what his eyes fell upon stopped his heart.
It was a coat of arms shaped into a golden triangle. Roses and vines wrapped around the outside, coiling around the outer layer, and, inside was a vibrant splash of green on one side and a muddied glob of blue. The green was bleeding into the blue in a jagged line, overpowering the color. In the middle of the indistinct line was a single green eye. An eye that sent a shiver of revulsion down Cove’s spine.
Mahyla’s coat of arms. He’d never felt so physically ill before.
“You still have something to say now, my friend? Why don’t you run along?”
Cove’s gaze felt leaden. Though he tried to stare the guard in the eye’s, his own eyes continued to fall back to the shield on his armor. His stomach rolled. He felt short of breath. All the walls he’d been running to escape were suddenly closing in around him.
“It’s him!” the farmer gushed suddenly, and as if this revelation had been physically painful to utter, he burst into tears. “He’s the o-one you w-want! Look at his arm! Look at his arm! He’s the one you want!”
For a moment, time seemed to freeze. Except for Elric’s sobs, no one moved, no one spoke. Cove felt as if someone had just dumped a gallon of ice water on his head as he stared at Elric pointing an accusatory finger in his direction.
The Lupe and the Mynci exchanged an incredulous look, both turning slowly in his direction. Cove had the fleeting instinct to run, but the plan for flight must have shown on his face. The Mynci had only been but a step away. He’d only had to stretch one furry arm in his direction to clamp a paw over his wrist, to keep him rooted.
Recoiling, Cove tried to jerk away, but then time resumed, and everyone seemed to be moving in fast forward. The Lupe was on his other side as the Mynci wrenched the sleeve of his shirt up to his shoulder, exposing his tattoo.
Both of Mahyla’s guards grunted in surprise.
Cove could only look at Elric, curled up on the ground, tears gushing from his eyes, with an open expression of wonder and betrayal. Tattooed on Elric’s back, he knew, was a bronze Scarab wrapped around a large, green emerald: the sign of Brightvale’s support for the return of the king. As a member of the Scarab Army, wasn’t his job to return the king to the throne, and not to hand him over to the hands of his enemies?
“I’m sorry!” Elric wailed, as if reading his thoughts. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone! I w-wasn’t! N-Not until—!”
Cove blinked. Somewhere underneath the shock, there was a great deal of anger, but it was remote. It could not touch him just yet. Not even when he felt his arms jerked behind his back, or his entire body lifted off the ground in the rough hands of the guards.
“Well, well, well. We came looking for traitors, and we found the biggest one of all.” The Mynci laughed. “Looks like you’ll be coming with us. Queen Mahyla has been looking for you.”
It was beyond him to fight. The two creatures carrying him were much larger and stronger. There was no hope for escape. All this running had been for nothing, because, like always, the past was determined not to allow him to escape. Still, Cove could feel nothing but a strange, cold emptiness. It stayed with him like the sounds of Elric’s weeping as the guards carried him around the side of the house where a carriage awaited, tied to a rather hostile-looking Uni that was stamping its hooves on the ground in impatience.
Cove didn’t resist or object as the Mynci opened the door to the carriage and tossed him inside. Nor did he try to get up from the seat he’d been thrown onto as the lock clicked shut on the door. When the carriage began to move, Cove could only stare dismally up at the roof of his prison.
This was it. Though it wasn’t the way that he was sure his Scarab Army had imagined it, Cove was finally going back to the Lost Desert, but he imagined it was a dungeon and not a throne that awaited him there.
To be continued...