The Ruby Insignia
Something about the night always fascinated A’Mara. The stars above her reminded her of eons ago when she star-gazed with her lover by her side. Now, she looked at the stars alone, watching them glisten in the night sky.
A’Mara hadn’t drawn the draperies yet—she was still waiting for Kasi to come.
Dinner was already set on the table downstairs, waiting for when He showed up. That was two hours ago.
The skies reminded A’Mara of the skies that covered Earth: the tiny planet housed in one of Ịtoba’s busiest Kingdoms. She’d visited the planet once when it had just been made. There was something about it that amazed her: the planet was carefully detailed, something of beauty, reminding her of Ariwa-Ịte. Of Illaryia.
Illaryia was an archipelago of islands hanging off the coast of North Tayamaya. It was a nearly forgotten region, a part of the Sake Tribes. Yet Illaryia’s history was the root of every Empire in Ariwa-Ịte. It was the home of the first created beings. Illaryia was the home of an immortal God who needed a host to contain His Sẹda.
Illaryia had managed to remain innocent and untouched by 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. A’Mara eased off the balcony’s rails and made her way inside to let Kasi in. He was dressed in a burgundy-colored tunic underneath an open black cloak. Usually, His attire hinted at His current emotional status. Tonight, He was in a good mood.
Kasi sat on her bed, making Himself comfortable. He looked up at the ceiling, enthralled with the paintings above Him. “All is well with you?” He greeted.
A’Mara sat beside Him. “I think.”
“Who did this?” He asked, referring to the eloquent paintings that swirled above Him.
“My former assistant.” A’Mara had hired a female named Alian to help her with household duties some years ago. She’d resigned since then, preferring to work with Alian because she’d offered a better salary.
Alian’s time here was filled with artistic pleasure; the female took 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.” A smile formed on His lips as He looked at the paintings of flowers that decorated the ceiling.
“She made these gorgeous murals of the different flowers in my garden. She painted white lilies in the bath and did little rosebuds in the kitchen downstairs.” Speaking of downstairs, “I made dinner for you.”
“I’m not staying long.” Kasi 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 pulled in a breath. She knew He came here to tell her that. For nearly thirty years, she’d tried to forget the harrowing memory. “Who did it?”
“I visited Kerria the other day to ask her to look into Lucifer’s whereabouts.”
A’Mara arched her brows. He changed the subject. And what did He mean by asking Kerria to look into Luce’s whereabouts? Was he here? Kasi had slipped away and onto the balcony. She joined Him, staring into the courtyard below as the warriors closed up the residence for the night. His arms wrapped around her, warm to her skin.
“I felt it was a good idea to have Kerria look into it. She told Me she would let Ocia know.” Anguish was buried in His voice. He exhaled, then made His way inside, plopping Himself on the bed before folding His legs.
A’Mara stood in the cold for a while, letting the wind caress her skin. The lights below dimmed, and the iron gates squeaked shut in the distance. A’Mara returned to her bed, closing the balcony doors behind her. She pulled the drapes shut, then untied her red satin scarf, folding it neatly on the nightstand beside the bed.
“I suspect Luce may have set something up in Kekere-Daun,” Kasi said.
“Why didn’t You let Ocia know directly?” she asked.
“It’s not Luce I’m worried about.” His words were steady. “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?” He was always careful with His moves. He would keep His distance, observing His opponents, ensuring that He knew what measures He was about to take. He wasn’t hasty, and that concerned A’Mara. If Kasi believed this had involved Almases, then she knew He’d be cautious of His moves and the attention He attracted.
But there was no reason to believe Almases were involved. There was hardly any reason to believe Titans were involved. “You think he may be in connection with someone?” she asked.
A half-smile formed on His face. “That’s exactly what it is.”
A’Mara swallowed. She believed Him.
Kasi could probably wipe out a slew of ehols and aingeals with just a snap of His Sẹda. But with the Titans—in particular, the Almases—He’d been extra careful, especially since the Zamŷni Wars.
“Because he’s in connection with the person who took your wings.”
Her skin tightened. “Who do You think it is?” She prepared herself for the worst possible answer. An Almasi, perhaps. A’Mara didn’t get to see who it was, but she knew it must’ve been someone powerful.
“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. Plus, I certainly wouldn’t want to deprive you of the chance to avenge yourself, Ayaba. After all, it was your wings she stole.”
A’Mara’s blood ran cold. Who was it? Who was this ‘she’? “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.”
“You wouldn’t tell me, wouldn’t You?”
Kasi nodded. “You perhaps already know who it is.”
She pressed her head against His upper arm, hoping the void in her chest would go away. Her lips trembled. Tears threatened to flood her eyes. Dread crushed her chest; perhaps she knew who it was.
“Why?” The word dripped off her tongue, along with the tears that rolled down her cheeks. She looked at Kasi, her eyes blurred from tears.
It couldn’t just be the female by herself. She was powerful—all Nightingalers were—but she wasn’t powerful enough. Maybe she had hired a Hun—or worse—an Almasi to do the task. But why? And why now?
“You let her live.” She pushed the words out through clenched teeth.
“The Queen was loved by her Kingdom, by her own people,” He said. “To them, she was a goddess, the embodiment of pure perfection. But she was poison.”
“You didn’t have to go through with it,” A’Mara said.
“I had My reasons. If I’d done anything then, and if I do anything now, My own Empire would turn against Me. There isn’t much evidence to convict her—or anyone, for that matter. She lied to them.”
“And You think letting her live would be any better?”
“For now, yes.” He glanced at her, then pulled Himself off the bed. “Time will allow the truth to uncover itself. If I had My own way, I would have killed her a long time ago.”
A’Mara followed Him to the door. “But You do have Your own way. You are an Asaylin. The Most High. You must have been able to do something.”
He looked at the paintings, then at her. “You 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 at the murals on the wall. Her eyebrows quivered. The colors took the shape of flowers of every kind. There was beauty in her paintings, every petal, every leaf. The colors were vibrant. But there were mistakes, and one could easily spot them if they weren’t trained. A few unintended paint splotches, the paint’s cracks, and the flowers’ inaccuracy.
“What does Alian have to do with this?” she turned to ask Him.
A smile crept upon His face. “A lot more than you think. To the untrained eye, the Queen was masterful and gracious. 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, as 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.”