The Ruby Insignia
As dark as the night was, there was always something about it that fascinated A’Mara.
Staring at the skies above her was nostalgic, reminding her of eons ago when she star-gazed with her lover by her side. Now, she looked at the stars alone, but it never dampened her mood and the warm memories it always brought back when she did it.
A’Mara hadn’t drawn the draperies as yet—she was still waiting for Kasi to come. Dinner was already placed on the table downstairs, having set it herself for whenever He showed up, but that was two hours ago. She wasn’t worried about Him. She knew He’d come, but dinner would be out of the question since it would have gotten cold by now.
The skies in Ịtobareminded A’Mara of the skies that cloaked Earth—the tiny planet housed in one of the busiest Kingdoms of Ịtoba, the Central Octeract. Or, more specifically, Kotak. Once, she’d visited the planet and was amazed at the careful details imprinted into the planet’s core structure. It was something of beauty, reminding her of Ariwa-Ịte and its carefully crafted atmosphere. It reminded her of Illaryia.
Illaryia was made up of three tiny islands and a peninsula that hung off the coast of North Tayamaya, Celipha. It was a nearly-forgotten region, a part of the Sake Tribes, but Illaryia’s history was the root of every single Empire in Ariwa-Ịte. Illaryia was the home of the first created-beings. It was the first home created by an immortal God who needed a host to contain His Sẹda. Though, right now, Illaryia served nothing more than an archipelago of islands notorious for their fishing industry and extremely backward way of living.
Illaryia managed to remain innocent and untouched from the outside world. Still her home. Still His home.
The windows began to rattle, shaken by a sudden gust of breeze and followed by a gentle knock on the glass door that separated her room from the rest of the palace.
A’Mara eased off the balcony rails and made her way to the door, letting Kasi inside. He stepped in, dressed in a burgundy-colored tunic underneath an open cloak. What He wore always hinted at His current emotional state, so she always took that into account whenever she addressed Him. He was meticulous that way, and while on some days, His emotions blurred between non-confrontational and worried, today it was clear He was in a good mood.
Black was His normal color, and He was never expressively colorful in His choice of clothing. So, burgundy came as a pleasant surprise, especially because she knew what He was probably coming to her with.
Kasi made Himself comfortable on her bed, staring at the ceiling, seemingly enthralled with the paintings above Him.
“All is well with you?” He greeted her.
A’Mara sat beside Him. “I think.”
“Who did this?” He asked, referring to the eloquent paintings that swirled above His head.
“My former assistant.” Three years ago, A’Mara hired a female named Alian to help her out with the household duties, but the female resigned just a few months ago, preferring to work with Kerria for the simple fact that she had offered her a higher salary.
Alian’s time here was filled with artistic pleasure; the female had taken it upon herself to paint every inch of the palace with murals of flowers.
“It’s unique. Not the best, but it’s different.” Not an insult, but not a direct compliment either.
A’Mara shrugged. “She enjoys painting flowers.”
“I see that.” From what she could see of His face, a smile formed on His lips as He looked around at the soft paintings of flowers that decorated the ceiling.
“She made these gorgeous murals of the different flowers in my garden. In the bath, she painted white lilies, and she did little rosebuds in the kitchen downstairs.” Speaking of downstairs, “I made dinner for you.”
“I’m not staying long.” Kasi slowly turned His head toward her. “One of My Awọn Mimọ is an artist. He’s retired from that now, but he still collects art. Maybe she might be a good apprentice for him.”
A’Mara shook her head. “Alian no longer works for me.”
“I know.” Kasi got up from the bed, making His way to the balcony, where she followed. “I found the person who stole your wings.”
A’Mara took a deep breath in. It was only a matter of time before she was forced to come face to face with a truth that she tried to forget for thirty-two years. She closed her eyes. “Would You tell me who?”
“I visited Kerria the other day to ask her to look into Lucifer’s whereabouts.”
That was a drastic diversion from what she was expecting. A’Mara opened her eyes to meet the Elohim looking over the balcony rails and into the courtyard below. Joining Him, she watched as a few of the warriors she’d hired some few years ago busy themselves with closing up the palace for the night. Then, His arm wrapped around her, warm to her skin.
“I felt it was a good idea to have Kerria look into it. She told Me she’d let Ocia know.” There was a sense of anguish buried in His voice. He exhaled and then made His way back inside, plopping Himself back on the bed before folding His legs and staring at the ceiling.
A’Mara stood in the cold, clutching herself as the brisk wind caressed her skin. The lights below were slowly dimming, and she could hear the iron gates in the distance squeak shut as the warriors brought an end to the daily duties they had.
She returned back into her room, closing the balcony doors behind her and pulling the drapes across. Her red satin-chiffon scarf was tied at the end bedpost, ready to be folded up and placed neatly into the nightstand drawers. She kept her satin-chiffon scarf with her for all these years. The brilliant red of the fabric almost glowed in the bedroom light, reflecting the Sẹda used to weave it.
“I suspect Luce may have set something up in Kekere-Daun,” He said.
A’Mara looked at Kasi, then joined Him on the bed. “Why didn’t You let Ocia know directly?” she asked, but she could see in His face the obvious reason why He was hesitant to go to the head Shujaa.
“It’s not Luce I’m worried about.” His words were steady, but there was something else beneath them. “Luce isn’t a threat to Me, plus I have My warriors tracking his move, so there isn’t any need for an investigation.” He turned to face her. “I want information. I want to know what he’s up to.”
“You suspect something?” Whenever He did, He always began to make careful moves. Most of the time, He kept His distance and observed them, especially when He believed that the situation involved the Almases.
She propped herself up. A’Mara hadn’t heard about them in a while, but she knew if anything involved them, He would’ve been meticulous. He was, for most of the time, avoidant of them. So, whenever He was this reserved, it meant the Almases.
“You think he may be in connection to someone?”
A half-smile formed on His face. “That’s exactly what it is.”
She believed Him.
“Because he’s in connection with the person who took your wings.” The way He said it, so drawn out and careful.
All by Himself, Kasi could probably wipe out a slew of ehols and aingeals with just a snap of His Sẹda, but with Titans—in particular, the Almases—He’d been extra careful, especially since the War of the Titans.
“Who do You think it is?” she asked, preparing herself for the worst answer. She hoped it wasn’t an Almasi, but her mind wouldn’t allow her to think otherwise. “And why didn’t You just put the Shujaa on it?”
Kasi tightened His face. “It would be a rather interesting feat if the Shujaa underwent finding out what this connection is. It would be no fun for Me to do it.” The cruel and casual joy in His tone made A’Mara’s blood run cold. “Plus, I certainly wouldn’t want to deprive you of the chance to avenge yourself, Ayaba. After all, it was your wings shestole.”
It was her first hint. A’Mara’s blood boiled. She had a good idea who he spoke about, but she wasn’t sure yet. If A’Mara was completely honest, this was the first time in eons she’d heard Him made any reference to her at all.
A’Mara shook herself out of it and took a deep breath in. “You think the Shujaa would get enough information to make a judgment?”
“I think it’s best the Shujaa handle a situation like this. With what I know and what they are about to find out, having the Shujaa on the case is more appropriate. If you want, you can carry out your own investigation; I won’t stop you. If anything, I want you to.”
“The person who took my wings, is this person someone close to me?” A’Mara took the risk in asking, and now she had to prepare to hear the answer, but His face tightened even more.
“Would you be able to guess correctly if I told you ‘yes’?” It was daunting, the way He said it, but in His voice, she heard the agony, and that told her exactly what she needed to know.
She pressed her head against His upper arm, hoping that the void in her chest would go away. Her lips trembled, her tongue heavy in her mouth. A’Mara pulled a breath in, trying to hold back the tears that flooded her eyes, but no matter what she did, that heavy feeling loomed over her, threatening to crush its weight on her chest. She hugged herself, trying to keep herself from falling apart at the news, but no matter what she tried, she couldn’t hold it together.
“Why?” she whispered. Her blood ran cold beneath her skin. She looked up at Kasi, her eyes jittering from the thought that the goddess would have been the one to do something as atrocious as taking her wings.
But it couldn’t have been just the female alone. She was powerful, yes, but she had no power to commit a crime as atrocious as that all by herself. A’Mara did everything she could to bury those memories, but slowly they came back. The very night she was assaulted.
Dunia’s forest was dark, covered with evergreens that blocked out any and all semblance of light. It could have been anyone. She couldn’t remember hearing anyone or seeing anyone. The only thing etched in her memory was the pain it brought. And that memory choked her, till cold sweat dripped from her forehead and ran down the sides of her face. She steadied herself, pressing her head further into His arm in the hopes that the warmth His skin brought would somehow ease her pulsing mind.
Beyond the haze of tears that clouded her vision, everything seemed blurred. The room spun, and migraines began to creep up on her. A’Mara shut her eyes tight, blocking everything out of her mind.
“Why?” Her voice cracked from a whisper, reverberating into the air and thinning out into a chilling kaleidoscope of mixed emotions that she couldn’t pull together.
“She was My wife.” Wrapped in fire and ice and fury, He said those words. And they stung. Those words stung her—because she knew they were true.
“But you let her live.” She pushed the words out through clenched teeth, but even then, He never flinched.
The sorrow was buried deep beneath the composure He tried to keep. The female had hurt Him too; she couldn’t deny it, even though He refused to admit it.
“The Queen was beloved in her Kingdom, by her own people. To the people she ruled, she was a goddess, and to Me, she was the embodiment of pure perfection. Once. But then, she became poison.”
“You didn’t have to go through with it if You didn’t want to.” She remembered the wedding. It was long after she left the Divine Throne, many years before the War of the Titans erupted into something so drastically fatal, it nearly caused the collapse of the realms. At the time, she never understood why an Elohim as powerful as He would choose to wed an empra whose past was questionable at best.
“I had My reasons. If I’d taken action then, and if I take action now, My own Kingdom would turn against Me. There isn’t enough evidence to convict her—to prove that she was the one causing them all the pain they endured. She lied to her people. And you know it.”
A’Mara opened her eyes and looked at Him. “And You think that letting her live would make everything better? The people deserve to know the truth.”
“It’ll come in time. I do what I see best. If I had My way, I would have outed her a long time ago.”
Kasi pulled Himself off the bed, then looked up at the ceiling, at the murals painted at the walls. He turned toward the glass doors, prepared to leave, but turned to her one more time. “Your former assistant, she is wonderful, isn’t she? At what she does. She paints; she taught herself the craft, and to the untrained eye, one could easily mistake her for one of the masters of art. And yet, if they knew her, they would be shocked to learn that she is young and unlearned.”
A’Mara looked up at the murals, the colors taking shape of flowers. She could see the beauty in the art, the brushstrokes in every petal, every leaf. The colors were vibrant, and each flower Alian painted did remind A’Mara of some master artist. But, A’Mara could still see the mistakes. A few unintended paint splotches, the cracks in the paint, and the flowers’ inaccuracy, A’Mara saw them all.
“What does Alian have to do with this?” she asked Him.
A smile crept upon His face; His expression was a bit lighter than before. “A lot more than you think. To the untrained eye, the Queen was masterful and gracious. She served with honor and pride. This was why her people trusted her. She was a goddess—to the untrained eye. The people in her Kingdom, and in these realms, their eyes are untrained. But I’ve seen everything. I will never get these people to see her deceitfulness, the same way you can never get average spectators to see the flaws in Alian’s paintings.”
“How am I supposed to get people to see her flaws?” A’Mara sighed. “I can’t do anything about her.”
“And that is where you are wrong, Ayaba. You have everything in you. I know what you’re capable of. I know you can reveal the truth.”