The Broken Soul: Promises and War - Part Eight
There was a small chunk of land in the Lost Desert, just within the boundaries of the Draik’s Claw, that the natives referred to as The Oasis. Like its namesake, it was the one haven which could be found in the desert and its endless stretch of sand. Unlike mostly anywhere else, there was a pool of water here, surrounded by a cropping of palm trees that shaded its guests. Flowers grew here like they grew nowhere else except within the walls of Cove’s castle in his tampered soil.
It was a blissful paradise on any day to the occupants of the Lost Desert, but its remote location made it almost deserted, as few were willing to make such a perilous hike, no matter how tempting the cool pool of water.
It was at the edge of this water that Cove met with Sarevor. It was their chosen meeting place and remote enough that neither would be in danger of being spotted. Though Cove’s heart was heavy, laden with the failure he’d just faced with Mahyla, he found Sarevor in a relaxed, joyful state.
He sat with only his musketeer, brown pants on, rolled to the knee, with his feet dangling in the water. His scarab medallion was resting, exposed, on his chest, reflecting gold in the sunlight. In any other place, exposing such a powerful symbol would be treacherous, but in The Oasis there was a considerable amount of freedom that one could find nowhere else. There was a smile on Sarevor's face as he lounged lazily with his back against a palm tree. Coming upon the scene, Cove paused as an envious feeling coursed up his spine. If only he could be so relaxed. He thought mournfully of Tyrin, his lost, secret alias that had allowed him the leisure that Sarevor now enjoyed.
Not to mention, though he was several miles away from her now, he was still haunted by that strange, incomplete feeling. As if he’d just left half of himself behind. It was disconcerting. He wished he hadn’t had to face her again. The close proximity had somehow imbalanced his senses, as if alerting him—a little late—that there was something missing.
“I’ve failed,” Cove said finally.
Sarevor opened a lazy eye.
“Failed?” he repeated. “So she refused to admit that she needed you? We’d expected that.”
Cove’s brows drew together. Though he knew the weight of this problem rested more heavily on his own shoulders, he’d expected Sarevor to seem at least a little troubled by the fact that their one and only plan had crumbled.
“Yes, we did,” he admitted, “but what will we do now?”
“We’ll take a much needed vacation somewhere nice,” Sarevor answered. “This place seems as good as any. Why not here? Sit down, sire. Relax. Maybe go for a swim.”
There were several seconds when Cove could only gape at him. Had he been hit in the head with a coconut while he’d been away?
Sarevor waved a hand. “You’ll be returned to the throne within a month.”
Cove choked. “What are you talking about?”
Finally, Sarevor looked up, a mischievous grin splitting his face. “While you were gone, I received news. The recent fall of Brightvale and the Haunted Woods inspired Meridell and the other, more docile territories to take action before they ended up the same. There’s an uprising in the works, my king. Mahyla has pushed her luck.”
“But I don’t—.”
“This, of course,” Sarevor went on, “was all set into motion by your timely reappearance. Your face alone has reunited and rebuilt the Scarab Army, and much more. You’ll be king again soon.”
“I...” What was there to say?
Cove closed his mouth and sank to the sand beside Sarevor. It was too good to be true.
Too good, maybe, but it was still true. When Mahyla set to conquer Meridell, she was met with a great deal of enemy reinforcements. The battle was Meridell’s win, and it wasn’t but a month after that enough forces were gathered and an attack was waged on Mahyla’s castle. Her forces were disarmed, her armies disbanded, but Mahyla herself slipped through their clutches and disappeared.
This was the only disappointment Cove was forced to face once he’d returned to his castle. He’d won the war, but had lost something else and just as significant. Part of his soul has now lost to him forever. He hadn’t reconciled with her, and she was gone without a trace, leaving him feeling incomplete and slightly dissatisfied.
Even with his crown, his clothes, his jewels, and his people—even with all of the Draik’s Claw returned to him—there was a gaping hole where something could not be replaced.
It should have been insignificant. He had existed without her this long. Surely he could manage for the rest of his life.
Cove blinked, refocused, and found Sarevor before him, bent on one knee. He was again in the clothing of a Royal Guard, but now his Scarab Medallion rested on the outside of his clothing, gleaming like a triumphant flag.
“I just wanted to remind you, you are expected to be present at your own celebration ball.”
Cove couldn’t help but to smile at Sarevor’s devious grin.
“That was today?” he joked only slightly.
“Yes.” Sarevor nodded. “Your guests are due to arrive any time. You might have been aware had you not been hiding in here.”
The Usul gestured around the large expanse of the throne room, encompassing even the new stain glass window that had been made to replace the one Cove had broke. However, Cove was the image in the window dressed in armor holding a sword, not Connan, his grandfather. Contrary to his wishes, he’d been overruled when his councilmen had decided to construct him in the glass this time around.
Cove looked away from it, suddenly ready to be out of the room.
Cove could hardly believe that so many Neopians could fit into his ballroom. Granted, it was a tight squeeze. Most Neopians couldn’t keep from brushing shoulders as they moved around the dance floor or took punch and snacks.
Cove watched them all in their gleaming, pristine clothing, washed, crisp, and elegant, a bit overwhelmed that this many Neopians supported him and were glad for his return to the throne. It brought a huge amount of his actions over the past year into stunning clarity, and he was mixed with both guilt and delight in return.
Still, he felt slightly detached from the celebratory atmosphere. Though the guests present might have been relieved of their burdened consciences, Cove had not. Somewhere out there, his stolen soul still lurked. Without her, he felt oddly empty in spaces, but he couldn’t quite wish for her return either. He would just have to learn how to manage
“You look troubled, sire.”
Cove turned his head as a Kougra in a dazzling green dress took a seat beside him. Her nearly red hair was tied into a bun, but a few wavy locks danced free around her face. He smiled at her, her deep red eyes as critical as ever.
“Jezza Blue, I’m glad to see you here.”
Her lip twitched. “A loyal supporter of the rightful king, of course.”
She flicked a paw at her runaway curls and disturbed the necklace resting on her chest. A golden Geb winked up at him, and some of his strain washed away. He saw that she was tapping a foot paw to the beat of the waltz playing.
“She escaped.” The words left his mouth before he could stop them.
Jezza rolled her shoulders. “Don’t worry, Cove. She won’t come back.”
He nodded. “I know.”
How could he explain to her that that was as much a problem to him as a solution? The story had not yet leaked as to how and why Mahyla had come to take his crown. Sarevor had wordlessly kept a promise Cove had not asked of him and hadn’t told anyone the truth. Cove himself was having a hard time repeating his failure as well.
But he would have to face it eventually, he knew. Once the celebrations faded, there would be plenty of questions to be answered.
“Then forget it for the evening and celebrate.” She took a glass of punch as a servant passed with a try and held it up in his direction. “To a new beginning and a chance for redemption.”
Cove’s brows drew together as Jezza tilted her glass and took a drink before offering him a secretive smile and slipping away into the crowd. Did she know? Could she have possibly guessed at how thoroughly he and Mahyla were connected?
No. No one could possibly know or understand. As long as he and Mahyla remained divided, he could never be the same again.
He would always be incomplete.
But as he stared at over the crowd of friends, citizens, and allies, he knew that he would have to pretend. Though he might have lost a part of himself along the way, he still had a kingdom to run.
He was still king.