Although I hate her a lot for this ughhhhhhhh, the friend who suggested this also managed to get a pretty good deal out of it. This is not only the longest one yet, but also the best, in my opinion.
...That could change, since I have my work cut out for me yet, but it's certainly something.
(Hint: Run while you still can.)
Prompt: Supreme King Jehu and Supreme Queen Haou.
(Warning for somewhat more pronounced but still non-explicit sexuality, dark and dreary imagery, and a certain bout of violence near the end...)
The first time Jehu saw the young woman who arrogantly called herself "The Supreme Queen," loved by none, he thought she was little more than an especially life-like puppet. Even when she moved to cast her gaze upon him, in an act he knew sent all others in their right mind scrambling for their lives, it possessed nothing but a singular, dispassionate intensity.
Blood-darkened red and festering black winked at him as the figure packed in armor and ornament moved emphatically within that group of standing dead men, only the dead men didn't know that they were deceased until they were in pieces on the ground. They had no chance against this intimidating puppet of pretty death.
The second time he saw her was when he actually spoke to her, in their first official meeting. He'd proposed it, of course, and when a few underlings did their undercover homework and found he was not the prince of a near-yet-far kingdom that did not actually exist, Jehu stirred their memories about with a little mental suggestion, and there was no more resistance after that. He knew exactly what he wanted, but like any good predator, he knew how to be patient and work for it. Perhaps she would dangle the prize above him for a while, but that was acceptable. He'd play by her rules, for the time being, no matter how stacked her rules were.
During the arrangement, two different warrior monsters had burst into her chamber two separate times to inquire about conquests having gone slightly against plan, and what the next course of action should be. Both times, she responded impartially, in a deadpan tone that was impossible to even extrapolate annoyance from; just answers with no emotional backing. Much the same as she was regarding Jehu himself, in fact.
The Supreme Queen said little to him as he explained himself in fairly few words. What she did say was all that was needed to stick to anyone who would listen, though.
"If you are inadequate, you will die."
Another statement of fact, lacking any threatening quality to it outside of what sense of threat might have been evoked in the listener. But Jehu was not afraid of a statement of truth, a truth that he could just as easily bend at his leisure anyway.
"I understand. I hope I satisfy well enough that it need not come to that, then. But I suppose if you lose your need for me, you may kill me if it pleases you."
He smiled at her, with inescapable sincerity. The Queen merely huffed, barely noticeably.
"Very well. Take your leave."
It took barely a week and a half for Jehu to rise high enough in the ranks that he was trusted enough to enter the Supreme Queen's chambers without difficulty. He rarely spent much time in there when it was not necessary to present his newest attack plan to her, however.
The latest victory over a newly-conquered region had been secured by one of Jehu's regiments. Many of that particular troop had been made up of a clan of monsters drafted forcibly from a previous city takeover, one that had been in a hostile and violent conflict with the yet-unconquered and considerably more prosperous settlement across the sprawling grassland. Finally, they had the chance to take their revenge, and most did so with morbid delight — they killed not only a vast swath of the fighting men and women, but many civilians and children and even the elderly.
Instead of risking the loss of manpower, they poisoned the water-wells that littered the now-dusty plains, and soon their enemy tribe was no more.
The ex-prince, now clothed in rags, drank with like-minded lordlings in tatters, and they all thought themselves clever for pulling the act off successfully. The former civilians, far more nameless, were pushed to the side and congregated mostly amongst themselves. They pretended not to see the fallen king and the head of a renowned family of thieves tossing dice in the corner, in the spirit of celebrating what little they had left to be happy about.
Jehu, lacking the disquieting features every member of the secret celebration possessed (horns, wings, third eyes, stomachs with enough acidity to burn holes through the floor), decided he didn't feel like posing as an out-of-place supervisor and retreated up the stairs to the highest room in the castle.
He felt the pair of eyes sticking to his back from one of the guards at the base of the spiraling stairwell all too keenly. They belonged to a barely-adult boy; his hair was too long, eyes too young, and the thin draw of his lips much too resentful. Immediately, Jehu knew what would transpire here in just a few hours — and, he thought smugly to himself, he didn't even have to be a future seer to be able to read this boy's fortune with no uncertainty.
He entered the chamber, dimly lit to most eyes, and knelt to her. To his mild surprise, she was the one who addressed him first.
"There were survivors," the Supreme Queen said flatly. "They fled when they caught on. You were careless."
Indeed, that seemed to be the crux of the matter, but her only indication was the slight rising in volume of her voice at what would've been a displeased criticism in any other tyrant. Not only did her voice fail to sound quite feminine enough, it had a peculiar way of emphasizing points while completely shutting out all traces of an emotional lilt.
"There was a survivor," Jehu corrected her in the most polite and informed tone he could come up with. "Believe me, the warriors of Landstar went out for double duty yesterday, and oh so eagerly, I might add! They confirmed the Dragohuman clan was completely annihilated, except for one straggler. Rest assured, however, I know exactly where that straggler is right now." When the Supreme Queen continued to look at him in a way he playfully extrapolated to be expectant in some way, he added, "…And how best to dispose of him."
She did not say anything for a moment. Far be it from her to hesitate, but to the best of Jehu's understanding, it was the sort of silence the Queen employed when she was calculating her decision with the most callous and frigid of tactical logic. Finally, she moved, just enough to make her armor clank faintly from the momentum, and he'd discerned it as her usual cue to oblige someone to continue.
"You'll find the guard who normally covers the morning shift below your chamber has a little something to hide," he said with a helping of warm humor. Her eyes shifted off towards the door for an instant, but did nothing else. Jehu took it as a sign she acknowledged his report as having potential to be valid, at least.
He found himself giving her a long look then, an endless look; a look which suggested that he was of a deviant nature too full of brutal truth to be truly one-sided. His eyes moved over her sharp face as his smirk dropped away to reveal something arguably more candid. Each step he took towards her was relaxed and evenly paced, and he thought with great pleasure that if any of the Supreme Queen's other warriors, her advisers, her servants, her captives, or anyone even a single rank lower on the chain of command saw this scene, they'd die just as surely as if they'd crossed Her Highness on a bad day.
The Queen did not have bad days. She had successful conquests and unsuccessful conquests.
It took a long, long moment for the proverbial penny to drop. But when it did, it did so like lead through glue. A slow fall, but no less heavy. When it did, he kissed her fearlessly.
It turned out she was a virgin the first time they bedded down together. She was rarely treated as a woman more than an individual who surpassed gender where it counted, so it came as little surprise to him. Jehu was therefore wicked with his teasing, but made up for it with some strange concept of tenderness, dragging playful fingers along every feeling part of her just to hear the obscure changes in her breathing. Afterwards, while he slept tan, nude, and completely at ease atop the sheets, he ran his hands over her, pretending to himself that the sounds of the imaginary turning of gears in her head he'd caused were the signs of a sliver of emotion, groaning in her head like a rotting beam supporting a lavish house.
As far as he was concerned, they still made up for the verbal groaning he couldn't manage to draw from her, no matter how hard or how delicately he tried.
Although no one, man or monster or anything in-between, could hope to marry a tyrant with a suitor — and nor did many want to — it became common practice that Jehu was referred to as the Supreme King in the following months. Time passed from that point much like his courtship of her, in his perspective; ill-considered, hastily developed, and yet somehow as workable as it was simple to perform.
The composition and deployment of the warrior squads and generals in the castle was ephemeral and unstable at best. Despite the overwhelming number of troops and soldiers who went out to whittle down the enemy forces failing to return, somehow the castle always managed to fill gaps where they opened with little trouble. Brainwashing and memory erasure had become a more popular method than forcing captive warriors to fight for the side of the Supreme Queen and King, as it turned out most were much more keen to die now than be made to have a hand in the demise of the last remaining vestiges of freedom in this world.
Soon, Jehu became able to count the number of known sanctuaries left on one hand. The smaller ones were only able to delay the inevitable anymore, but the largest one had become the final line of defense for the remainder of free people. It wasn't any secret that survivors of all races, ages, origins, and abilities had come together beyond the boundaries of discrimination or favoritism with the intent of surviving an ever-nearing extinction. With ingenuity of the same flavor as the Supreme Queen's when she first began her reign, they'd found increasingly resourceful ways to stave off intrusions and raids of all kinds.
The Queen had instructed her army to let the last city be for the time being, until all other obstacles were out of the way. Jehu knew he wasn't the only one who questioned her logic at the time — murmurs in the halls of the castle were too loud and doubtful not to overhear by accident, much less feign deafness about. It was ridiculous to ignore a city that would only continue to grow more difficult every time a new settlement was destroyed or captured, and anyone else would have opted to nip the problem in the bud rather than let the desperation of the barely-alive become too prominent a force.
The line of thinking began to draw him towards wondering just how she had taken hold of enough power to become such a feared entity in so little time. Jehu knew she had only been in power for four months or so before he'd taken any interest in her, and during that time, she went from being unheard of to a name that made people want to fall to their knees and cry at the idea of the fates worse than death her captives often succumbed to. Even talk about being converted to pure energy for a tool that only drove more evil, or on the receiving end of experiments centered around it…
He let his thoughts trail off when he noticed the smoke cloud billowing outside the window, the glow of fire underlighting the landscape and occasionally flashing up in tiny sparks to wink at him from afar.
The Supreme Queen made some rustling noises to his side, followed by the sharp clanking of her armor. Jehu regarded her with a hint of boredom. "It's not even dawn. Must you really go so early?"
She ignored him. Her silence said enough for him, anyway, and Jehu could appreciate it for what it was. The avoidance of casual flattering lies pleased him, in a way. She never lied, to him or to anyone, and answered questions if the answer was not obvious. He was content in the idea there was little need for words outside of that. Some actions knew words no tongue could form.
His eyes were fixed on the Queen as they headed out to battle, a menacing monotone pillar tall amongst her followers no matter the physical height difference. She hadn't gone out to battle in a while, but it was fitting that the last stronghold she needed to capture would be taken at her hand.
They would capture it, then.
The last war did not light up the darkness of midday; it was between people, not weapons. It was waged almost too quietly, with slit throats and drowned corpses instead of exploded gunpowder or brutal skewerings. But the King and Queen knew it was real.
The people, too, knew it was real. It was clear in how many simply gave up after trying to run away, too overtaken by the approaching despair. Running no longer worked after it started to cling to their backs and breathe down their necks every waking moment. In the end, Jehu regretted that the battle did not last longer, for a better sense of true finality.
But when they returned to the castle, as strangely silent as they were relieved (were they really? was there any way to know anymore?), the Supreme Queen called the Supreme King to their presently-shared chamber.
"It feels like the indentation for a new paragraph of history," he said with a shrug that felt a lot less airy than it looked. The deafening sense of "now what?" that was rushing through the ones that still lived almost stripped him of the desire to ask at all.
But Jehu wanted to know, too.
"They expect one." The Queen let him watch her pace slowly to her bed, her features composed and immobile as ever. He thought he saw a trace of unrest in her movements, but had so long desensitized (or perhaps hyper-sensitized) himself to her distinct lack of anything involving a human heart that he wondered if he was just satirically making things up to amuse himself again. Maybe it had been going on so long, he'd trained himself to it, Jehu thought with a sense of mirth.
"You need only tell them that you have the proof they require. I can arrange for that." In his mind he was already planning it out, the steps that he would have to take.
After a long moment, the Queen sighed, removing her gloves. In a motion Jehu had never seen her make before, she tucked one lock of hair beside her ear.
"You are a skilled liar, Jehu," was all she said, disapproving.
He couldn't help but smile a little then, despite it all. She didn't lie in her own right. It was what fascinated him about her to begin with — almost an idealism spiraling in reverse. But would you have me any other way, my little warrior queen? Would you need me then? He didn't say that. He said instead, with blatant sarcasm, "At your disposal. You have only to say what you wish of me."
"You sound certain of that."
Jehu smiled further, amused by the accusation, although he did not understand it. "I speak the truth."
"You might. Have you spoken the truth, from the very beginning?"
For a second, he had to check if he was hearing things properly this time, and he was certain the dumbfounded look that had found its way onto his face showed it. Not only had she asked him a question in a completely non-rhetorical way, which did not happen, but it carried a tone he didn't have to wonder about imagining.
Unable to do much else, he slid the smile back on his face in order to respond properly. "I have—"
His mistake was made when he decided to gauge the Queen for a reaction, and found tension there. The tightly-wound tension of a predator about to strike… and yet, the comparison didn't fit. The Supreme Queen didn't kill because she had to at all, and the Supreme King who had been privileged enough to get so close to her knew that better than anyone. As devoid she seemed of anything human, she possessed an undeniable free will.
It made her too human, in retrospect, to possibly be the mechanical being he had pegged her for for so long. Lacking emotions or morals while possessing enough individual will to do what you wanted was—
"—never lied to you once, my Queen."
Jehu felt the clank of metal gauntlets more than heard them, and suddenly his entire body jerked to a stop. His hands were held by an indistinct shadow, and his back smashed into the wall so fast his breath left him. His hands slammed against his own neck, held stronger than steel by the hands of the Supreme Queen, and breathing suddenly became much harder as his throat compressed, choked by his own wrists.
He strained his muscles against her grip, but the position left him little leverage to escape with. His feet felt inexplicably leaden, and suddenly he realized gravity itself felt about ten times more potent than it should have.
"'If you lose your need for me, you may kill me,'" she repeated in a voice that edged away from vacant and into downright wrathful.
It clicked suddenly. She'd wanted him to lend his power to further her goal, and her use for him expired the second it had been accomplished.
Not about to roll over and allow her to kill him on account of any overrated romantic act of martyrdom, Jehu mustered up his own power to force his way out of the hold. As much power as he controlled, it wouldn't mean anything if he wasn't conscious to use it — adrenaline helped him scrounge up the energy faster, and it built to a cusp, but wouldn't repel her enough to get distance between them. Dimly, it occurred to him that she was imposing her own energy on him, hampering his methods of escape further.
But she wasn't allowing him to pass out yet. As though toying with him, she kept him at the edge of consciousness while she drove the sharp horns on the kneeguards of her boots into his own kneecaps, and allowed him to glance into her eyes as his vision spotted and swam helplessly.
"Super Fusion is capable now of collapsing the worlds in on themselves," the Supreme Queen said, as tiny slivers of some long-foreign emotion or other came dripping through some of the glacial cracks at last. "Nothing will remain."
"So, you… lied," Jehu wheezed out, fighting the urge to let his eyes droop closed. He was rewarded with the sight, just for a fraction of a second, of deep, resounding despair and hurt flashing across her eyes, dim with — resignation? Or was that just his eyes failing him…?
He could've looked as deep as he wanted and found nothing. The queen became the ascetic, and the ascetic became the queen.
"No," she said, and meant it, "I have never lied… in my life."
The Supreme Queen relinquished Jehu's wrists, and they dropped, already dead. The spike at her forearm drove itself right into his stately throat, and through.