The Lone City of Vearis
There was a sort of freedom in running through the streets of Vearis. Charlie felt a lightness he had never experienced before, and the scene kept playing in his mind, the flick of the fire enchantment as he had sparked the flame, the flare as that flame burned high for just a second, how the light had danced in his eyes and warmed in his fingers.
Charlie raised his hands high, letting the breeze of the city streets graze his skin.
As the castle behind him exploded in swaths of fire and stone, Charlie ran, letting the heat of the flames soften his back.
He needed August there with him in that moment, needed the warmth of his presence, the ease of his touch. There was nothing he needed more.
Around him, people ran from the destruction, ran from the crumbling foundations of the castle, and it seemed to Charlie that they were running toward freedom, toward the new and the better, towards him and August, as it always should have been.
Charlie reveled in that feeling, the feeling of hope, and ran from the destruction with the rest of Vearis, toward August who was sure to be safe in his apartment by now, the job with Theo done and over.
Charlie was free. Truly finally free.
Until a name rang out in the smoke and ashes.
“Charlie.” His name.
Nothing mattered. It was as if the world were turning upside down at that voice, at the way it caressed Charlie’s name like a warm blanket on a cold day.
There was something wrong, though. Because that was panic in August’s voice. That was fear.
And August was fearless.
Charlie turned around and it was worse than he could have imagined.
Through the smoke, billowing around them in heated waves, his brother stood with a knife to August’s throat. The look on Theo’s face was merciless, cunning and furious, all contained in the stormy fire of his blue eyes.
He sneered. “Beg me, Charlie. Beg.”
“Don't.” August said, his eyes hard, unreadable, even to Charlie.
Theo pressed the knife enough to draw blood.
“Beg for his life Charlie, and tell me why I should listen to you at all after what you've done.”
There was something hollow in Charlie’s chest, an empty void, raging and screaming at him. Two words.
There was nothing but that void, those words, echoing over themselves as Charlie’s legs went weak. Before he could question himself, he was on his knees, hands together in silent prayer. “Please.” Was all he said to Theo.
Have you ever experienced the kind of darkness where you can’t tell whether your eyes are open or closed?
It's unnerving, really, because once that light fades, there is nothing to be done but grope around like a helpless newborn and hope you find the switch.
But hope doesn't turn on the light; eventually, you have to give up; you have to lose yourself in the dark because what else is there to do?
As Theo slit August’s throat, Charlie screamed like he had never screamed before.
Theo threw the body, limp, bleeding, to the ground, August’s blood soaked into the dirt between the cobblestones.
Half of his heart lay limp on the street, half of his head bled out on the ground. Half of his very soul simply stopped.
Charlie wasn't supposed to be the sentimental one, he should have turned away, should have run until he could never be found.
But his whole body was numb, every nerve, every muscle had simply stopped when he saw August's blood leak onto the street. In the moment that knife moved, half of Charlie had simply died.
He roared a sob and Theo didn't stop him as he knelt at August’s side, fury a whirlwind in his mind, but panic a hurricane. He could not lose August. Not August, with his bright crystal eyes, not August and the way he laughed like there was nothing stopping him. Not August. Please, Charlie would do anything.
August’s hands pressed to his throat, trying to slow the loss of blood, but his eyes were dimming and the strength in his hands was fading. He coughed, wet and bloody, and looked at Charlie with fear in his eyes.
Charlie had never seen that look on August’s face.
He must be dreaming. This was a nightmare; there could be nothing worse in this world.
But that world stopped when August’s shaking hand rose toward Charlie’s face, feather light against his skin with the softness they reserved only for each other.
August coughed and his touch wavered against Charlie’s jaw; the horrible, deep cough hit Charlie's mind so hard he couldn't breathe.
It was the realization, the brutal, devastating truth that stopped his breath.
August was going to die.
August was going to die and Charlie was going to live.
He was going to live until someone showed him the kindness of death.
But Theo wasn't kind, and Bastian wasn’t defiant, and everyone else was lost in fog.
Charlie was crying. He was sobbing and August was coughing, the touch of his hand bouncing against Charlie’s skin.
Charlie whispered the only words in his head.
“Don't go. August. Please don't go.”
August’s breath shook with a laugh and the spark that always lit up his eyes blazed for just a second.
He met Charlie’s eyes for the last time and the stillness of his hand on Charlie’s face seemed to shift the pain of the arrow through his heart.
“Come with me.”
August ran a weak finger over Charlie’s jaw, his eyes dancing with a light Charlie didn't understand.
There could be nothing worse.
Not as the strength ran out of August’ hand. Not as it fell to his side with a soft hiss against the fabric of his bloodstained shirt.
Charlie gripped that hand like there was nothing else in the world to hold on to. There was nothing else.
He lifted August’s hand back to his cheek; his fingers were still warm, his skin still gold. But his eyes, where there once had been a brilliant crystal blue there was now nothing, wide eyed, empty, nothing.
Charlie couldn't breathe.
Death was not merciful; it was not a path to the light or a savior's ending, not a circle of life or a new awakening. Death was cruel and cold and merciless and Charlie would rejoice in it's cruelty as he stood from the street, facing Theo, facing the archers that stood surrounding him from all angles and lunged at his brother with the mercilessness of Death itself.
Charlie had three arrows in his leg before he even came close to Theo.
And one in his shoulder.
His brother’s eyes were hard, merciless, Death incarnate.
“Don't walk so close to the fire, Charlie, for you will pay for what you have done today.”
And he turned away like there was nothing more to say.
“Look me in the eyes you coward.” Charlie screamed at his brother’s back as Theo moved through the guards and archers surrounding them.
He didn't even flinch; there wasn't a hitch in his step.
“Take him to the lowest dungeon. And if he so much as lifts a finger towards you, shoot him again.” Theo’s voice was a growl as the last words echoed from his throat. “He escapes, and you are all dead.”
The soldiers gripped his arms, pulling at the arrow in his shoulder. But Charlie could hardly feel the pain. Could hardly move as his eyes settled on August’s dead eyes. On the vacant darkness in them.
Charlie tried not to remember the look on August’s face. He tried not to remember that fear. But the image was burned into his mind, branded like a prized horse.
The scene kept replaying. He kept watching, as the world came to an end, as the sun sputtered out in echoes of sparks and explosions of light, then deep, unending darkness.
August was gone. Gone from this world, never to return to Charlie’s embrace, never to feel his light again.
It felt as though the world was ending. Charlie was dead, half a person being dragged through the streets of his beloved city, his legs numb, his arms nothing beside him. There was only half of him left. The other half was dead next to August, lying prone, forgotten in the street like a half used toy.
Charlie couldn't move. The half of him that worked was lost.
August was gone. August was gone.
And August had left a broken promise in his wake.
High treason was one thing, a big thing, sure, but a broken promise in Vearis was quite another.
He could almost see the plaque hanging over the city’s gate, could almost feel the ancient words carved into the metal.
There is no escape for those who make a promise, save for the mercy of slaughter, or the satisfaction of fulfillment.
Welcome to the City of Unbroken Promises.
Friday, 9:15 pm
Meeting Charlie's eyes for the first time was like nothing August had ever experienced before and it was like nothing he would ever experience again.
The room was electric that night, jovial in a way that would have brought a scowl to August's lips if there hadn’t been so many eyes on him.
But Charlie’s gaze was different.
The forgotten prince, they sometimes called him.
Thinking about it later, August understood why that thought had crossed his mind as the music shifted, unaware, as he was then, that it was that very prince whose gaze had rendered him speechless.
The melody was slow to release it's captive audience; spread out across the ballroom in layers of blurry inattention, the crowd was mindless. Snakes of trivial conversation slithered between groups; dancers were slow to let the regularity of the mundane back into their limbs.
But Charlie… He hadn't been blurry like the rest. Charlie was in vivid focus, the lines of his face sharp and calculating; his eyes were the most brilliant of greens, and August knew with unfounded certainty that there was no color like that green anywhere else in the world.
August was staring. He knew he was staring.
But Charlie met his stare. And Charlie held it, as if he, too, found the other’s gaze impossible to break.
August felt the movements around him. The mindless chatter, the spark of fire as the music started up again, but he didn't break his gaze. He found it was hard to move when Charlie looked at him, he found his heart was beating ever so slightly faster.
Charlie’s mouth twitched, a slow smirk blooming across his features, and August was surprised to find, then, that the whim of their silent conversation had brought a smile to his face as well.
Charlie moved slow enough to be casual, glancing at people around him with distant loathing, like he had had a lot of practice hiding how he felt about them. The drink in his hand slowly dwindled as the night wore onward; Charlie’s eyes slipped from August to glance at those around him, stopping to charm the women with his words and the men with his power.
But his gaze always came back to August and the words in that gaze were ones that he understood:
The crowds were mindless. But Charlie and August, they were maybe the only ones who could see the world with clarity.
As Charlie’s gaze broke away from his again, August threw a glance toward the king, sitting in the middle of the room, with the crown prince beside him. Hatred burned deep in his soul and he remembered his father’s words. Bring them to their knees. That's what August would do.
“They must have done you a great injustice, to deserve a look like that.” Charlie drawled as he had approached, the ice in his drink clinking against the glass.
August smiled at that. He smiled at the cadence of Charlie's voice and the darkness in his eyes.
He tilted his head to the side.
“I suppose that depends on your definition of injustice.”
Charlie laughed and it was like the wind was singing.
But when he replied, it was with a candor that August hadn't expected.
“It's funny,” Charlie said; he was gazing at the grandeur of the ballroom, “Because I think I would hate them with any definition. Their list of strikes could wrap around the city.”
August studied him for a long time. He always wondered later how it was he didn't recognize Charlie as the Forgotten Prince. Despite the name, there was something about him, even then, that August was drawn to. Maybe it was the way his green eyes glittered when his head tilted at just the right angle, or maybe there was something about the lilt of his smile, but, even after everything, the last thing August could do was forget someone like Charlie.
And so he met Charlie’s gaze head on.
“Do you always go around telling people you hate the king?”
Charlie matched August’s glare and set his gaze toward the throne.
“Only when I can see the consequences of his horrors in their eyes too.”
August fixed his gaze on Charlie. “And what is it you see in my eyes?”
Charlie’s smirk glittered with wicked delight and the gleam in his eyes made August’s stomach flip on itself in the best way.
They were standing close to each other, now, close enough to get dirty looks from those surrounding them.
Gently, his fingers shaking ever so slightly, Charlie traced the line of August’s jaw.
“This feels like a conversation for another place.”
“Then maybe we should take it elsewhere?”
August watched Charlie’s face as the question registered; he felt the anxiety crawling up his body, his hands shaky, waiting in Hell for Charlie to dismiss him.
And then Charlie met his eyes. They were a sage forest fire, brilliant, bright green, and August had to hold his breath to keep from gasping. Charlie enthralled him, this beautiful stranger who so openly despised the world around him; everything about him was like throwing a stone across a lake and seeing how far it would jump.
August sometimes wondered if Charlie had felt the same about him that night.
Slowly, he drained the remains of his drink, shoving the empty glass to a passing server with little regard for her already full hands.
August watched with thinly disguised thrill as Charlie grabbed his hand and dragged them slowly through the crowd to an unmarked door. As they passed through it, the world seemed to change, the jovial air of the party drowned away and the darkness of the hallway made August grip Charlie’s hand tighter.
The guards around them either didn't care, or, August realized later, recognized Charlie and knew better than to question him.
Charlie turned, walking backwards so that his eyes met August’s. The smile gracing his lips made August’s heart skip a beat. There was something about Charlie, August could never put his finger on it, but it was the reason August had followed him through the twisting halls of the castle. It was the reason August had watched him with almost reverent awe as they turned out from a castle passage into the streets of Vearis.
August turned back in surprise, looking at the door to the passage like he had never seen it before.
“Are we in the lower city? How did you know that was there?”
Charlie just tilted his head with a crooked grin. “I know everything about this city.”
“Who are you?” August said reverently.
A shadow darkened Charlie’s wildfire eyes.
“You don't really want to know, do you? Come on.”
Before August could reply, Charlie gripped his hand again and led him through the streets with the ease of one who knew them like the back of his hand.