Beyond the Paint

**Hi everyone! This is my second writing post, from even longer ago (crazy, huh?). If you have questions regarding what this story is about, I am more than happy to answer— for now, let me clear up a few things. “Guards” (mentioned once) are the narrator’s (the emperor of this nation) personal spies. The Sandryja bloodline is his family, who have been the sole monarchs for centuries. They have all been fierce dictators. Habishima, the “fortune teller,” is a witch who helps the emperor defeat mortality and find a way to rule his people from the grave. THIS STORY IS NOT FINISHED YET!!! If enough people comment/like it, I might post a second part . . . tbd!**

 

My people think that I am dead.

They believe that, after centuries of waiting, their misery is over. I have no son, nor daughter, to carry on my name, the noble Sandryja bloodline.

Their aching strife— the famines I dismissed as merely the product of poor agricultural skills; the droughts where no fresh water was sent their way for months, while I take my twice daily baths; the cruel punishments of law enforcers over mild offenses— is, so they say, “over.”

I double over with laughter at the naïve thought that I hadn’t anticipated this marvelous moment since I accepted my father’s crown and scepter.

My plotting was, to be sure, risky. Mingling in dark magic— unpredictable, widely-feared witchcraft— is never a simple business. But the motivation, the possibility, was great; far overpowering any doubt. I know my people disliked me, hated me, even, and would revel in the glory of my death secretly, secretly, when Guards weren’t flocking every home, keeping tabs upon all activity, carrying out my orders to watch everything, regardless of prior suspicion. All subjects were branded as questionable until their loyalty was proved beyond a shadow of doubt.

Alas for them, my pitiful people, I may have been a . . . disagreeable man. “Selfish,” “highly vain,” “spiteful”— perhaps so, but never dull-minded.

I prided myself upon my mind in particular. Every thought of mine was filed to a point finer than the delicate needles, resembling young dragons’ teeth, that stitched through the heavy fabric of my royal robes. Such gaudy silk and fur and crushed velvet, they were. I wore those robes like you would not believe, my every step pulsing with patriotism (false, my dears, all false), tricking my people and prying advisors, leading them to believe that I was ordinary. Like any other ruler. Once my time was up, they thought, it was up. They would be rid of me.

It was not so.

I was clever, oh so clever, about the way I involved myself. I sank slowly into the midst of sorcery, like frogs boiling painlessly to their deaths, a process that is timely but true. That’s why stepping into an acquaintance with Habishima wasn’t foolish. To be frank, she got the short end of the bargain. Weekly, I had her consult the spirits, and I will halt right here.

Allow me to make this abundantly clear: Habishima is no fortune teller.

She deals with nothing alike those silly tea-leaf-readings, or the supposedly crystal gazing balls you see in films. The mood she casts is dramatic, yes, but mostly as dark as is appropriate. When discussing exactly how she’d manage to bring me into the spirit world, to possess ordinary objects, and the price of such abilities, things would happen. Candles would flicker slightly, though you’d cast the blame upon breezes. But how can you explain the withering of flowers before your very eyes? I saw several hibiscus blossoms drop completely from their stems, dead and shriveled like brown mice. The sudden dripping of a faucet, only to discover blood is trickling from its spout?

So I knew of her magic.

I came to her when I was ready; when I was ready to die. I was not old yet, compared to the longevity of my ancestors, but we both sensed it. Something stirring upon the air, ominous darkness that hinted at rebellion, concealed hatred. Whichever form Death took, I knew it was coming. There would be no surprises. So, when I believed the time to be right, Habishima led me into her small hut for the final time.

Her village was very small, composed of about seven families, and she had easily evacuated them all. Any threats of darker magic than a medicinal brew for the occasional fever is feared there, the imbeciles. They have their share of witch doctors, but nothing like Habishima. She is their finest, though they are terribly afraid of her.

The inside of her hut was as plain as ever. No tapestries hung upon the walls, nor shutters or beads to fill the open spaces serving as doors and windows in the four symmetrical clay walls.

Habishima waved me to a chair. She rarely ever spoke, and that visit was no different.

She worked in silence. Every so often, she gathered her ingredients: a hair here, a drop from my veins, water cursed by a demon. I grimaced only slightly as she brewed my potion, and again when I sipped it, tasting of fire and just as fluid. I had drank about five before, all preparing for my final batch. Each time, they varied in intensity: blue like jay feathers, reminiscent of river stones; black as midnight, its flavor akin to parchment ink; and so on.

As my insides burned to ashy cinders and I twisted in pain, Habishima wound around my neck a long vine, with bloodred blossoms fringing its edge. This was the final stage. Then she mumbled something, more chanting, more severe than what I’d heard before.

Then a blinding explosion as I died.

I did not awake for some time.

Even then, technically, I did not awaken.

I was dead.

But I was conscious, and there lies the difference, though I was so weak I could barely keep my mind together for more than a few seconds before slipping under once more.

Much to my dismay, I could not see, but somehow felt my surroundings and knew. Although I had not been within this part of my palace for some time, I recognized where I was.

Within a painting on the far eastern corridor.

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