Two months. It had been two months since Avalice was invaded. Two months since three kingdoms were ripped apart and cast to the brink of war. Two months since the Kingdom Stone transformed and bathed all the planet with its light. But for two, the most important thing that happened two months ago was the death of Shuigang’s King.
He had been known as many things. A powerful warrior. A fine monarch. A respected ally. A father. To Dail, he had been all of that and more. An inspiration, a role model. The epitome of a great ruler. The King was everything that Dail wanted to be once he took the throne.
He could remember all the days he had spent under his father’s tutelage. All the time sword fighting or studying politics, Dail had hung on the King’s every word, every movement, so that one day, he could be just like him.
But why? Oh, why did he have to be taken away so soon? There was still so much that Dail had to learn, still so much that he could only have learned from the King. His time wasn’t supposed to come yet. Dail was not yet meant to be king any more than his father was yet meant to be buried. Dail wasn’t ready, he wasn’t prepared. Why did the time have to come so soon?
But oh, Dail knew. He knew too well. The King was dead because of him. It had happened so fast, but he remembered clear as day. He saw it, he saw with his own eyes, the swing of the blade and the flying of feathers. He saw, he saw with his own eyes, the limp, decapitated body fall to the ground. Dail, Dail could have saved him, if only he were stronger. But no. He couldn’t save him. He couldn’t even avenge him. It was his weakness, his failure, his fault that the King was dead. His fault. His fault.
“Forgive me, father,” he prayed, and he prayed each and every night, each and every day. “Forgive me for my failure. I’m so, so sorry. I failed you, and my kingdom. It’s my fault that you’re gone. I can never replace you.”
Two months. Two months he had been saying that. Two months he had spent in Shuigang Palace, begging the forgiveness of a father from whom he would never receive an answer. Two months he had spent drowning in his own tears, refusing to take the throne, for the throne was not his to take. He wasn’t ready to be King, it wasn’t his time. He knew that for a fact.
Dail was a failure. He couldn’t be King. If he were strong enough to be King, his father would still be here, and he wouldn’t be in this position. Until he was strong, he couldn’t be King. Until he wasn’t a failure, he couldn’t be King. Dail could not be King.
The rest of the world had turned away from Shuigang. After all, there was nothing to be done. The strain and chaos would go on until there was a King, and Dail, oh Dail, Dail could not be King. The rest of the world, Shang Mu, Shang Tu, the rest of the world had turned away. They could not bare witness to Shuigang’s tears.
There was nothing to be done.
Spade knew that better than anyone.
His life since the invasion had gone mostly unchanged. The Red Scarves were still the Red Scarves, Spade was still Spade. Despite the unwanted attention brought on by the events of two months prior, everything, somehow, still managed to be the same.
Spade didn’t mind the lack of change. He liked his life just the way that it was. The chaotic criminal life of the Scarves was, after all, his own preferred way of living. It was the life he had chosen for himself, after all. The life for which he had left Shuigang Palace.
He remembered as clear as day. His father, the King, a symbol of greatness and admiration, and never cared to so much as glance in his direction. It was never Spade who mattered. Spade was nothing but an afterthought to Dail. He could try and try to get his father’s attention, but it always seemed that Spade may as well have not been there at all. An afterthought. That’s all he was, and that’s why he left.
Did he ever regret leaving? Perhaps, at a time when he was smaller, he may have felt an amount of remorse. After all, it wasn’t just his father he had left behind, but his beloved big brother as well. Dail had always been there for Spade, even if nobody else was. As far as Spade was concerned, Dail was the only person who mattered. The only person worth caring about.
But there was nothing he could do. Spade knew. He knew it better than anyone. Spade couldn’t help Dail because when Spade left the palace, he betrayed the royal family. He’d left his life as a noble to become a petty thief, and that, Spade knew, was unforgivable.
So everything was resting on Dail. But that was okay, because Spade knew that Dail would be okay without him. After all, Dail was the strongest person Spade knew. He would stand up and take charge, solve all of Shuigang’s problems. He would be a great King. And Spade would remain as he had always been: an afterthought.
But yet, two months. Two months had passed. All this time, and Dail had yet to take the throne. Why? Why was there no word of him? Why did he not take control?
It had been too long. Spade knew that it had been too long. Far too much time had passed since Shuigang’s King had fallen. What was Dail doing? Why did he not take control? The Dail that Spade knew would have long since established his authority and seen Shuigang back into the light after its trip into the darkness.
But that hadn’t happened. Why?
He had to know. He knew that he shouldn’t be doing this, he should have just minded his own business, but he had to know.
He climbed the walls of Shuigang Palace, the cold, damp wind pushing against him, his head berating him with orders to turn back. But he couldn’t. He had come this far. He had to know.
He slipped through a window that he remembered all too well. The room he landed in was dark and thick with dust, untouched, he knew, for many years. He knew, because it had been his room.
Looking around, he could feel a sort of nostalgia. Although the memories were vague, he could recall bits and pieces of time he had spent here. He could envision himself, smaller and more innocent, laying on the bed in the corner. What he might have been thinking about was a mystery, for those thoughts had long since been forgotten. But he could see it.
At some time, he might have laid in that bed, and his big brother would sit down to keep him company. He could remember their conversations going on for hours, but alas, he couldn’t remember what they were about. But the voice of his brother came through crystal clear in those memories, even if the words he had spoken were lost.
He couldn’t stay here long, he knew. There was no point in staying anyway. No point in reminiscing about things so far in the past. He had a mission, after all. He had to get it done and leave. Spade was here to find Dail, and he knew that being found was only a matter of time.
He slipped out of his old bedroom without a sound to be heard, not looking back as he left it behind him. He remained in the shadows, glanced quickly around corners, making absolutely certain he wouldn’t be seen. The room that Dail had stayed in when last Spade was here was only around the bend. For all Spade knew, Dail could have moved rooms since then. If he was, then the mission might as well be over. He didn’t have enough time to search the whole palace. But the room that Spade remembered was right there, right here, right in front of him. He didn’t have much time. He could only hope this was correct.
He gripped the handle, and… he stopped. What would happen when he opened this door? What if Dail was really there? What would he say? The last time he had seen his brother— the last time Spade had truly seen his brother —was so far in the past. He didn’t know what would happen, he couldn’t. And there were so many things that could go wrong. What if Dail didn’t want to see him? What if he called the guards? What would happen then? It would all be over… But what if he didn’t? What if there was something so wrong that Spade wouldn’t be able to make a breakthrough? Would his efforts have been in vein? Would it be worth it to have tried?
No. Time was running out. There were footsteps coming in this direction. He had come this far. All he had to do was open the door…
And he did. And he found…
Nothing. There was nobody here. As Spade stepped inside and looked around, he could confirm that with himself. The room, yes, the room was no doubt Dail’s bedroom. It was draped with the royal green, and filled with Dail’s belongings. But there was nobody here. There was nothing.
How could he have been so stupid? How could he have not thought to plan ahead? Now he had come all this way, for what? To stand in the palace he was not meant to be in? In a room that so strongly felt of his estranged older brother? To stand here, breathing in air he was not allowed to breathe, tears rolling down his cheeks, asking himself, why? Why did he do this? Why did he come here? Why had his brother not taken his destiny? Why did his father have to go and die? Why did he have to be so stupid? Why, Dail? Why, father? Why?
At that, the world suddenly froze. For a moment, as that voice reached his ears, Spade could have sworn that time had stopped altogether. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe, the thoughts in his head had come to a grinding halt. Almost robotically, his body turned around, and he found…
Dail. He was standing in the doorway, eyes wide, affixed to Spade’s the moment he turned around. Neither moved. Neither said anything. They simply stood, staring, as if they were the only two people in the world.
And then they were together. Dail’s arms were around him, Spade realized once the shock had passed. He was hugging him.
“You’re here…” Dail gasped, shaky as if it were the first breath he’d breathed in ages. “I can’t believe you’re actually here…” When he released Spade, he was smiling. It was a small, damaged smile, but it was the first he had given in some time. “Oh, Spade… You’re all wet. Please, come downstairs, have some tea…”
“I can’t.” Spade spoke so quickly that he barely heard himself say it at all. From the look on Dail’s face, he apparently had, and Spade caught himself just as briskly as he had stumbled. “I can’t,” he repeated more steadily.
For a moment, the brothers remained staring at each other. In that time, Dail’s expression became one of disappointed understanding.
“Oh… No, of course not. Silly me.”
Dail closed the door behind him, and the room was shrouded in darkness, illuminated only by the moonlight shining through the window. The brothers seated themselves beside one another atop the bedspread, each staring down at the floor, as if there were something down there so interesting that it consumed their entire beings.
“I can’t begin to describe how happy I am to see you again,” said Dail, although his eyes did not search Spade. “It’s been too long since we were able to just sit down together and have a conversation…”
Spade’s only response was a soft hum. Dail was not fazed.
“It’s just like when were kids, isn’t it? Sitting on the bed together… talking about whatever ails us.” There was a mild chuckle somewhere in that sentence. “It’s just… nostalgic, isn’t it?”
Spade hummed again.
“I remember all the hours we used to waste away together…”
“I remember father getting mad at us.”
Dail frowned. “Yes. I remember that too.” He took a deep breath, in, and then out, and looked to Spade with a soft smile. “But, it’s nice to be together again. For a while, I… I worried that I might not get to see you again. That those memories would just stay memories. But, with you here, it’s… it’s almost like I could forget…”
Dail blinked, his expression softening with uncertainty. “I beg your pardon?”
Spade looked up, his brow knitted, his eyes hot. “Why aren’t you King yet?”
Dail shrunk under his gaze and quickly turned away. “I…”
“You know that nobody knows anything about what’s going on with you, right?” Spade said. “I thought you might have been dead.”
Dail scowled at the floor. “They would be better off if I were.”
Spade blinked, his expression becoming one of shock and concern. “What? Why?”
“Because I failed,” Dail choked, his fingers grasping at the bed sheets. “I failed father, I failed Shuigang… He would still be here if it weren’t for me. I’m a failure, Spade. I’m not King Dail, I’m not even Prince Dail. I’m just… Fail Dail. No wonder father spelled my name the way he did.” He wiped his eyes, and he grimaced at the floor. “How can I be King when I have my own predecessor’s blood on my hands…?”
Suddenly, Dail felt a sharp tug at his collar, and he found himself nose-to-nose with an angry looking Spade. “Now you listen to me,” Spade growled, and Dail’s eyes widened. “You are not a failure. You think our father’s death was your fault? Well, it wasn’t. There wasn’t anything that anybody could have done to stop that from happening. So man up and stop blaming yourself.”
Spade released Dail, and Dail stared back at him, unsure of what to say. Without a response, Spade continued. “You know how much I looked up to you when we were kids? That never changed. I’ve known you my whole life, and I always knew that you would make a great King. Maybe your time is showing up a little early, but this is your destiny. It’s your responsibility to take control of this mess of a Kingdom and clean it up, you got that? Stop moping and start mopping.”
Dail looked on at his younger brother for a time. Then he smiled slightly, and laughed. “That wasn’t a very good analogy, Spade.”
Spade blinked, then huffed. “Well you may not have noticed, but I’m not the best motivational speaker.”
“I thought it was okay!”
“No, it was terrible. Shut up.”
Dail sighed. “You’re right, though… I know you are. I… I guess I just needed to hear it from somebody else.” He stood up and walked to the window, looking up at the sky. The starry spiral above seemed almost to be looking back down at him. “My destiny… You really think that’s it? That my destiny is to be King?”
“I’ve always known that,” Spade replied. “Not just to be King, but to be the best King this place has ever seen.”
“Well, I don’t know about that…”
Spade gripped Dail’s shoulder. “I do.”
Dail smiled slightly, and nodded. Under the light of the stars, he embraced Spade once again, and this time, Spade returned the favor.
“Why don’t you stay here, Spade?” Dail offered. “You can be Prince again. I’m sure that everyone will love you. You can stay here, with me, and we can talk over tea, and… it will be just like old times.”
For a moment, Spade hesitated. But he knew what his answer had to be. “I can’t.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, it’s just…” He paused, searching for the right words. “…I don’t belong here. You know that.”
To Spade’s surprise, Dail’s smile didn’t waver. “Yes… I know. I suppose I just… don’t want to let go, is all.”
Spade sighed, smiling in return. “Well, nobody said that you’d have to.”
The two gripped their hands together. “You’ll visit again sometime, won’t you?”
“Whatever chance I get.”
Dail pushed the window open, and Spade started to climb out. However, before he had fully exited, he stopped. He glanced back, and saw his brother smiling at him. “Goodbye, Spade.”
Spade smiled back at him.
Three months. It had been three months since Avalice was invaded. Three months since three kingdoms were ripped apart and cast to the brink of war. Three months since the Kingdom Stone had transformed and bathed all the planet with its light. But for two, the most important thing had not happened in the past. It was happening in the present.
Three months since Shuigang’s King had been murdered, and finally, finally, the new King had come. The coronation of King Dail of Shuigang was enough to illuminate the entire planet, a spark of hope against the shadow cast by the invasion’s aftermath. He had taken his oath, he had stood proudly with the crown atop his head, and when he turned to the crowd, he smiled for all that a smile was worth.
Dail was not a failure. Dail was King. And oh, how everyone knew what a great king he would be. Spade knew that better than anybody. From where he watched at a distance, he could see the same brother than he had known all that time ago. The same brother who he had spent so much of his childhood with, who had been such an inspiration to him. Dail stood at his destiny, wearing the crown he was always meant to take. He knew, Spade knew, that Dail would be a great king. The successor that their father deserved.
And Spade, they both knew, could not share that glory. He would remain as he always had: an afterthought. But this time was not for Spade, they knew. This time was for Dail. And Spade did not need his time now, no. Dail’s glory was enough for him to bask in as well. This time was for Dail. And from where he stood, Spade could see clearly that the smile was not directed only at the world, but at him.
King Dail had found the beginning of his happy ending. And someday, Spade knew, he would find his as well.