Chapter Sixteen

The End of You

Diamond no longer felt the world in motion but rather he felt time had halted at the exact moment he had come to realize that he had killed his wife. And it was driving him insane knowing that he did such act. He had paced in his room for almost thirty minutes. His fellow servants had sworn to secrecy and would tell the others of the ordeal for surely there will be questions.

There always was. However no matter the amount of questions they would ask Emerald's body must be moved. In fact, the stairs should be cleared now.

He stopped and pondered. Could it really be that easy? His mind had told him no but he had argued against it. He found himself walking—almost running—to his door and into the hallway and toward the staircase.

But he stopped midway and thought about his decision a second time. He felt rather uncomfortable. He did not want to remember his wife that way. Yes, he was hypocritical. For a moment ago she was the out of control woman, not his precious wife as he was referring to her now.

Perhaps it was her death that brought out his emotional, hysteric side. Yes, his turnabout could explain his jumpy character. But why of all time must he think of her as his wife? He could've… He could've tried to love her as much as he did before but… lying to her was the same as killing her.

No, she deserved better.

He ended back in his room again without checking the stairs. But he wasn't alone this time; there the watchdog sat at a corner, royally garbed and trained to stay quiet. Diamond poured himself in the meantime a cup of gin and drowned away for a second the thick tension. And for that blissful second he imagined he was alone away from whatever punishment awaited him in the matter of seconds to come.

Someone entered the room, their footsteps heavy against the wooden boards. He only had to raise his head and stare through the cracked mirror hanging above to know who it was. But he closed his eyes, not caring on the person that entered, and tuned out the screams coming from downstairs and down the hall.

Instead he thought about his sin; then he thought about his wife; until he at last thought about her—the beauty in this corrupted world. No doubt she was not nearby. He would never enter his home with the Elysium guards. That will only alert his wife of his presence. Knowing him he would want to surprise her.

It was in his nature to fool around like a common jester except he was playing with his wife's emotions. But wasn't he doing the same thing? He too was playing with her when he could've told her the truth from the beginning.

But he will not lie that he also wanted to see the result of Darien's ploy. And that was a good example of why he calmly took his punishment. People like him did not deserve a chance for salvation. But people like Serena, pure and innocent, did not belong here.

If he had the chance, if he believed hard enough in the gods and made a prayer, he would ask for Serena to return home—back to the land of Cornelia. For one way or another, corruption will claim her, whether it be coerced or pushed upon.

And those corrupted could never leave. They would remain here, trapped forever in their prison, until death claimed each and every one of them. And it saddened him that even a crueler punishment awaited him after death, where no deal for a longer chance in paradise could be made.

Might as well enjoy the freedom he has while he was still alive. For it will surely be cut short.

More footsteps entered his room, crushing the pieces of glass and fragments of Emerald's necklace into smaller bits, until they surrounded him, each with their swords pointed against him. There was no passage to escape, not that he was looking for one. He turned and stared at their refined armor ruined with bloodspots, which reflected his hollow gaze. He then stared at the four swords pointed at his direction, each covered in blood.

He almost laughed right there and then. They were all idiots, including him, for acting like royalty. It was like a game of pretend, except they never stopped pretending. They highly believed that they were important. Perhaps they were in their paradise-like home.

It was laughable. It was saddening. But it highly proved how much each one of them craved salvation; although others believed salvation came in fear and games. In deals. In a fantasy. In a land filled with false happiness.

They were the ones that were able to leave labyrinth, to make their god proud, and return home, knowing that salvation lied inside the labyrinth, in Elysium as they call it. They are the accepter, changed into believing that they deserve the punishment awaiting them in death. And they would drag others with them, and send the executioner to those who did not believe in their way of thinking.

That was him. He was the executioner, killing those who did not believe that Elysium was salvation and punishment. But then what had made him change? Was it the last man that he had killed? The one that carried those haunting brown eyes; the same affectionate eyes Serena held, but alas, hers was a light shade of blue.

It could be a coincidence.

Yes, a mere coincidence.

But those brown eyes had haunted him—still haunted him. He remembered how sad those brown eyes had become, knowing that his life had been cut short from saving his little sister. By his side, his mother and father had laid, lifeless, each with vacant eyes.

And the young man, a warrior Diamond could tell, had given him a look of pity.

"Does our death make you proud?" He had coughed blood for a moment. "Does killing those trying…"—he was struggling to stay alive—"…trying to save their love ones leave you satisfied?"

"It is my role to kill those running from salvation."

"Salvation?" He had closed his eyes. "Is this really salvation? Can you really call this land salvation?"

Diamond did not answer. He was not trained to talk to his targets. But he remembered the man struggling to rise and to save the one he called Sere. He had clutched his sword tighter, ready to deliver the final blow, but the man had fallen back to his knees, coughing out more blood.

And it had made him curious. What was so good about his younger sister?

"You will die. That sister of yours will not be saved."

The man had refused to see reason and risen back on his feet, moving forward. And Diamond had simply followed him, watching as the man stumbled and vomited blood. He would not survive for long, but he had persisted, all to see his younger sister.

It was all so pathetic. He should've ended his life but he had held back, admired by the man's determination. But it did not last long. He had fallen to the ground, unable to rise on his feet. He then had crawled, leaving a trail of blood in the jaundice leaves, until he turned, resting his head against the dirt.

He then had said, "What is salvation… to you?"

"Freedom."

"Freedom… Sere would've liked that too." He had closed his eyes. It was the last time Diamond saw those brown, sorrowful eyes. But the man had not died there. He had still clung to life. "…I wonder if she is safe."

"No one in the labyrinth is safe. But if we live in the delusion, the truth is no longer intimidating." He had repeated the same words King Darien had told him when he was given the role of an executioner. He had never known what his king had meant, but he had kept those words close to his heart, as if they held the key to everything.

And it did; only he didn't know that then.

"What a sad thing to say."

"But it's the only way to live." He had sat next to him, unsure of the reason behind his action. It felt like the right thing to do at the moment, but it would later prove to be one of his biggest mistakes.

"Do you really… believe that though?"

"Does it matter what I believe in?" He did not answer. Diamond had looked at him, making sure he was alive. And he was, barely. "Did it matter to you that you will be dying for a lost cause?"

"She's not a lost cause." He had paused, taking in a shallow breath. "She's what I call hope; hope that one day… all of us… will live together again."

He was regarding his sister as a symbol, in a way to move forward. And he would've kept on going, with his family behind him, had he not intervene in his plan. Then, out of the blue, the man had returned to attack his earlier statement, saying: "I would rather face the truth than to live a lie. For how long will that lie, that false happiness, last?"

He had not made sense. What was wrong with living in a lie?

His words had left him bothered.

And with his last remaining strength, the man had whispered the name of his love one, "…Sere."

Somehow, with his death, he did not feel satisfied. In fact, he had wanted to know the reason why he had to kill them. For they were not of this land—he could tell on the marks on their backs—so what were their crimes?

So he had sought out King Darien to resolve his inner turmoil. But upon his presence, he had grown silent, unable to face the man as equally as he did today.

Darien, as he remembered him, had sat on top of the rail, overseeing the mystical land. At times, Diamond had felt that the land would revert back to its original form, a maze of torture. But it had been more than ten years since Elysium appeared. Perhaps it really was as Darien had said: Please the God of the Underworld and happiness will be yours.

But it had made him wonder, why could they never leave Elysium?

As he had returned his gaze toward Darien his doubts had disappeared, for his king had brought them this happiness, a false happiness as the young man had described it. And maybe he had not been wrong describing it as such.

"And so the pure remain untouched and given a freedom a tainted would beg for. Such is the way of life for those corrupted."

In his gloved-hand, Darien had a rose. And with it, he had twirled the stem and had enclosed his palm around the red bud; until the petals had fluttered down; toward the torches below and into the garden.

And Diamond had asked, "Who were they?"

But his king had refused to tell him. It was none of his concern in the end. Still he had never felt such disappointment of not knowing who his last kill was.

"So what now?" he said aloud at the present moment in time. "Will you really drag her to our fate?"

"She belongs here."

"Is that really the best reason you have of keeping her here?"

"It's the best reason, a rational one."

"How is it rational?" Diamond gritted, stepping forward.

The guards automatically went to a battle stance, pressing the tip of their blades against his chest. He knew what that meant. He was pressing his luck.

"You failed me, Diamond. You should've kept the deal."

Diamond smiled. It was the only thing he could do in a situation like this. He turned to pour himself another drink. He knew what was coming. And he was prepared for it.

But before he took his last drink, they had grabbed him from behind and had forced him to his knees. He looked around and caught eye of the watchdog. The dog gave a faint smile and mouthed the words, "You can still be saved."

And it was true. He could. He just needed to corrupt Serena. But he couldn't.

His head was sharply pulled back by the roots of his hair; it stung and bothered him as he rendered into a hiss. His punishment came in a black slug—the knowledge of truth they had called it—as they forced his mouth opened and placed the dark slug inside.

He had tried to fight it by whipping his head. He had even refused to swallow it. But it made its way down his throat, almost suffocating him as it did, and planted itself in the pit of his stomach. And no doubt the black ink would spread throughout his body through the arteries until it reached the center of his brain.

But the pain! Oh, the pain! How terrible it felt!

He clutched his stomach and brought his knees close to his chest and groaned to his discomfort. He even screamed, wishing for the pain to stop. He needed to think of something, anything for the pain to fade away.

So he thought about the past again and tuned out the world around him. No doubt in a couple of hours he would have an expressionless face and carry out his true desire. For he had seen it before when he had done the same treatment to some of his victims; and how they had lashed widely in pain; until they had changed into silent creatures and had showed their true colors.

He wondered what his true color was.

But he did not want to think about that. Instead he thought about the nightmares he had before, of the faces he had killed. What was wrong with him? What had changed? When did everything around him begin to convert into nightmares, rocking his mind with regret?

He never felt regret before. So why did he feel it then?

Maybe it was the moment he had come in terms with reality after dreaming of the young man for weeks. Maybe it was the moment he saw a piece of the truth in a distance, of where the lost kingdom laid. And never had he noticed it until that day, on the third of January, of the place he had thought he had forgotten.

How long was he stuck in his fantasy? For how long, he had questioned. How could he forget about the labyrinth so easily? It was this wretched fantasy that was corrupting the truth.

Did he truly believe that this world could hide its true form? For technically, it was the labyrinth, but the God of the Underworld had concealed it with a land similar to the one below; to hide away the fact that their punishment would be worse when they die. And why was that? Was it because they had refused to believe in a god? Or was it because they had traded their misery for a false freedom?

"Acceptance is the cure to paradise," King Darien had said.

"But it's a sham, a lie to the truth," he had argued. "What good is living in a false paradise when a cruel punishment awaits us in death?"

He had thought that if his king had seen the truth as he had that they could try to break free from their curse. But by the look in his eye, King Darien had begun to distrust him, enough to even send a heated glare toward his direction.

And all Diamond could think of at that moment was why.

"You are ill," his king had said. "Go rest."

Diamond had scowled and had grumbled, "No, I am not ill." And then he had raised his voice into a bellow, "I refuse to bask in a lie."

And it was the truth.

King Darien, from that moment, slowly had received his hatred. He, the man who brought a false paradise to their home, had basked in the lie and highly believed in cruelty and revenge. For this is what it was. He had wanted revenge against his parents, for using him, for ruining him, for bringing him misery and shattering his happiness.

So why was he, along with the rest, being dragged in his revenge?

"Why should others have a happy life?" Diamond had overheard him say once to the watchdog.

And the watchdog had simply remained silent for a moment until he had made an oath, "Whatever happens, my lord, I will follow you."

"You will leave the moment you kill her."

"No. I will stay by your side. You have my word."

But as for Diamond, he had enough of living in a lie. So he had approached the king in mid-June and had said, "I no longer wish to be the executioner."

And instead of killing him, as he had originally had thought his king would, Darien had smiled. That itself was a strong sign that something had changed in him. Diamond had a strong desire of knowing, another mistake he would soon regret.

So he had listened to the deal that would release him from his duty.

And it was simple.

"Corrupt her, and you will have your freedom."

It was too simple to be true. But King Darien's last words to him had left him angry.

"However, I forbid you to fall in love with the woman."

As if!

Darien had made it seem that he would but he would prove him wrong. Instead it was him that was wrong. He had fallen in love with the pure-hearted woman at first sight. And he despised himself that he did, but not only at himself, but at her as well. For on her back, she carried a mark, similar to the man he had last killed. It rattled him looking at it. Because of him, because of that man, his world had changed.

He had thought of hiding it with pearls but she never wore them as much as he had hoped. He thought he could ignore it but he had enough of its sight that he instinctively threw a dagger at her when she presented her back. So, yes, it was intentional. And, yes, he knew what he was thinking.

But he didn't mean to push her away.

He loved her too much to lose her.

She was his long, lost hope.

And he couldn't deny it.

No, he will not deny it any longer; that those eyes of hers were more than just a coincidence. She held the same expression as that man. And Diamond highly believed that she was the little sister that man had cried for before he had struck him down.

When he woke from his memories, he was in a cell, resting on the cold floor. He had made the mistake of sitting up in a quick jerk. For in a second, he was on his knees, vomiting black on the ground, and perhaps he even vomited blood. He stopped for a moment, relieved that he did, and noticed the small slugs moving in his vomit.

They curled and uncurled, and repeated the process once more—until they ceased and began to evaporate into a green liquid.

Horrified at the sight, he continued to vomit for a moment longer, ridding himself of the slugs inside. When he was done, he was weary and exhausted. He rested his head against the ground and closed his eyes. And gradually he began to dream of Serena, sitting on a swing, as she threw her head back with a smile on her face, her hands holding tightly on the rope.

But the sweet dream didn't last. In a second, he began to dream, the same old dream that haunted him months ago, of the man struggling to find his sister, who also destroyed his false happiness, his lie.

"If only I never knew the truth...," he mumbled. "…I would've lived in content."

Yes, indeed. He would've been like the rest of them. But it was too late for regrets.

When they announced his sentence the next day, he wasn't surprised when the king had decreed death. In truth, he already knew what his king was planning. He only hoped that Serena did not fall for it.


Notes: Going on vacation; won't be back until August 26.