Oath of Destruction – Jennifer Anne Davis

Savenek didn’t say a word to Rema or Darmik as the three of them made their way to the palace in Emperor’s City. He wanted to be alone so he could think about everything they’d told him. However, time was of the essence. Allyssa, his sister, was dead. Savenek was now the crown heir. Bullocks. He was a bloody prince. It didn’t seem real. He ran his hands through his tousled hair. Nathenek wasn’t his father. In fact, Nathenek—the one person Savenek trusted and loved more than anyone else—had lied to him his entire life. Savenek wasn’t even sure what he wanted to say to Nathenek right now. He’d probably start with one simple question: Why? Rema—his mother—had explained her reasoning. Not that he understood it or was okay with her justification, but at least she’d provided one. Savenek glanced at the moon.

It had to be past midnight by now. The cool air blew off the sea, coating Emperor’s City with a light mist. At the gate to the palace, a soldier granted them entrance. While their surroundings had been sandy, drab, and hardly anything green in the vicinity, the palace grounds were a different story. Instead of taking the main walkway as Savenek assumed they would, they veered to the left. For over a hundred years, this opulent palace had been standing amidst the desert city. Short green grass lined the pathway while perfectly manicured hedges grew next to it. In the distance, he could see a rose garden. After fifty feet, the two guards traveling with them stopped and looked around. One knelt on the ground and opened a section of the grass, which ended up being a wooden door.

It had blended in so well that not even Savenek had spotted it. He tried not to be too impressed. Darmik gripped Rema’s hand, helping her descend into the ground. He waved Savenek forward while scanning the area. Savenek peered into the square hole, able to see a narrow staircase leading downward. He’d already decided to go with his parents to try to understand what was happening. First and foremost, Emperion was in danger and needed protecting. Even if he didn’t fully comprehend everything, he had a duty to protect his kingdom—whether that was as a member of the Brotherhood or as a member of the royal family. Savenek quickly descended the stairs. At the bottom, Rema reached out, taking his hand.

He flinched. He barely knew this woman, his mother, who’d abandoned him for her kingdom. He didn’t know if he admired her commitment or hated her priorities. “This way,” she whispered, still clutching his hand, refusing to let go. They moved a few feet away from the stairs, making room for Darmik. After he descended, the door above them closed. The guards hadn’t joined them. “Hang on,” Darmik mumbled. There was a shuffling noise, and then a torch flared to life. Darmik held the torch out before him, revealing a squared tunnel.

“Follow me.” They made their way along the tunnel, no one saying a word. The walls appeared to be dirt, chiseled by hand. Every ten feet or so, there were wooden beams that covered the sides and the ceiling, forming a “U” shape. They had to be for reinforcement. Savenek estimated they were twenty feet underground. After about a mile, they came to another set of stairs. Rema released Savenek’s hand, then rushed up them. At the top, she knocked on the ceiling twice, and a wooden door opened. Savenek went up after her, stepping into a small room where half-a-dozen guards stood at attention.

When Darmik entered behind him, the guards stood a little straighter. His presence filled the entire space, intimidating even Savenek. “I want you,” Darmik pointed at the guard closest to the door, “to escort my son to the Royal Chambers. You will remain with him until further notice.” Everyone’s eyes widened in surprise at this news. Savenek took a deep breath and stepped around Darmik, wanting to get to his room so he could be alone for a few minutes. He needed to sort through everything. Right now, in the presence of the empress and emperor, he felt overwhelmed and was unable to think clearly. He wished Nathenek had come with him. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” one of the guards said.

“Did you say your son?” “Yes,” Rema replied, her voice clear and articulate in the small room. “This is our son, Savenek, Allyssa’s twin brother. He has been in hiding these past sixteen years.” The six guards dropped to their knees, bowing their heads. The move stunned Savenek. He scratched behind his ear, uncomfortable with the attention. Technically, he wasn’t a prince, was he? Didn’t there have to be a ceremony? Maybe the empress and emperor already had one when he was a baby. He shrugged. Was he supposed to tell the men to stand? Be at ease? “You can declare your fealty to Prince Savenek tomorrow,” Darmik said. The men stood.

So Savenek was a prince then. He sure as heck didn’t feel like a prince. Or look like one for that matter. “This way, Your Highness,” a guard said, opening the door for him. Rema reached out, gently touching Savenek’s shoulder. Of all the times he’d wanted a mother, missed his mother, she’d been within reach. Profound anger and sadness overwhelmed him. Instead of saying something he’d regret, he ignored her and followed the guard out of the room. When Savenek caught up to him, the guard took a huge step forward. Savenek tried to match the guard’s strides, but the man increased his pace.

Savenek was about to grab the guy and throw him up against the wall, demanding to know what his problem was, when the guard abruptly stopped. “Your Highness,” he said. “I am not permitted to walk alongside you.” “Why not?” Was this a subtle way of saying Savenek smelled? He’d been traveling for days and knew he needed a bath. Discretely angling his head, he sniffed himself. Yup, the stench of sweat was strong. “Normally, I walk a step or two behind a member of the royal family. However, since you do not know the way, I am allowed to be in front of you. But not beside you.” Savenek didn’t sense any deception in the guard’s voice or words.

He must be telling the truth. After rubbing a hand over his tired face, he nodded. The guard started walking again, Savenek following at a reasonable distance. “Are you allowed to talk to me?” Savenek asked. “I am permitted to respond to your questions.” Excellent. “What’s your name?” The guard glanced over his shoulder. “The name’s Brenek, Your Highness.” Savenek eyed Brenek’s longsword. It appeared to be of a fine craftsmanship.

The guard had to be decent in a fight to serve the royal family. “Do you enjoy your job?” Did Brenek see any action? He appeared about twenty-three years old. “I do, Your Highness.” Savenek wished he’d stop calling him Your Highness. It was disconcerting. They turned a corner. Large sconces with lit candles hung on the walls, casting the hallway in a soft glow. Savenek glanced at the pictures between the sconces. Each had an ornate gold frame encasing a portrait of someone he didn’t know or recognize. Savenek’s footsteps echoed on the marble flooring.

He lightened his steps so he didn’t make a sound. Brenek glanced back and smiled. When they came to a wide staircase, Brenek lifted a chamberstick from a side table and ascended. “What’s with all the keys?” Savenek asked as he went up the stairs. He’d seen keys carved into the doors, on handles, and even in some of the pictures. The guard shrugged. “It has something to do with the royal family. The empress can answer your questions about the palace and its history.” They came to a landing and went up a second staircase. “Are you usually stationed here? Or do you travel with the royal family?” “I go wherever His Majesty tells me to.

” At the top of the staircase, Brenek led the way down a carpeted corridor, dim candles barely lighting the area. There were a lot of shadows to hide in up here. They came to a set of double doors, soldiers standing on either side. “This is His Highness, Prince Savenek,” Brenek announced to the soldiers. “He will be staying in the Royal Chambers with the empress and emperor.” Both soldiers remained still, staring straight ahead like statues. If they were surprised by the information, neither showed it. Brenek opened the door. Savenek stepped inside a posh sitting room. Four sofas, a low table made of gold, and several plush chairs were situated on thick carpet.

Long drapes hung next to the windows. Several vases filled with flowers adorned side tables around the perimeter of the room. Brenek headed toward the corner where an archway was located. Savenek followed him through it and down the dark hallway. At the third door on the right, the guard stopped. “You can sleep in here.” He positioned himself inside the room, next to the door, as if he planned to stand there all night. Savenek stepped inside, scratching his head. “Okay, thanks.” He went over to the bed and plopped onto it.

The mattress was so soft he practically melted into it. He glanced around the room. A tall armoire stood in one corner, there was a dresser along the wall opposite the bed, a fireplace on the other wall, and a settee at the end of the bed. Half a dozen windows lined the wall behind his bed, none of which had the drapes pulled closed, so the moonlight shone brightly into the room. Brenek still stood next to the door. “Uh, you can go now.” Savenek wasn’t sure what the proper protocol was for dismissing someone. “I’ve been assigned as your guard. I am not allowed to let you out of my sight.” Savenek snorted.

He wasn’t a soft prince who needed to be protected. “I have spent my entire life training with the Brotherhood of the Crown.” He was certain he could take Brenek down in less than thirty seconds. “Regardless, I have my orders.” Brenek remained standing there with his feet shoulder-width apart, his hands hanging casually at his sides, as if he could stay in that stance for several hours. “Can you at least stand outside my room?” Having Brenek in there was creepy. Savenek didn’t want someone watching him sleep. Besides, quite frankly, it was insulting. He didn’t need a babysitter. “You’ll have to discuss the issue with the emperor.

” Not wanting to argue, Savenek pulled off his boots and fluffed a pillow. The mattress was too soft, the covers too luxurious. Staying in his clothes, he stretched out on top of the blankets, not wanting to get comfortable in this room. He half thought that when he woke up, he’d find himself back home, in his bed, and this would have been some sort of nightmarish dream. SAVENEK FLEW UPRİGHT. Something shattered in the other room. Then someone screamed—the rage and grief clear. He rubbed his eyes, trying to get his bearings. Brenek still stood next to the door, giving no sign he’d heard the commotion. Savenek slid out of bed and yawned.

It was still dark out. He stood there for a minute, listening to two voices arguing—one male, one female. Unable to understand any of the words, he went over to the door and opened it an inch. Brenek didn’t say anything. “I understand you’re upset,” Rema said, her voice nasally. “I am, too. But that doesn’t mean you can go on your own into Russek to kill Drenton.” “He’ll never expect me,” Darmik replied. “I can sneak in, slit his throat, and get out before anyone realizes what has happened.” It sounded like they were in the sitting room, just down the hallway from where Savenek stood.

“I have no doubt you can do it,” Rema said, her voice shaking as if she was crying. “But we can’t risk it.” “Then I’ll be leading my entire army into Russek,” Darmik replied, fury filling each clipped word. “We will destroy everything in our path.” Savenek shivered. He had no doubt Darmik would do just that. “I’m going to talk to the empress and emperor,” he whispered. “Stay here.” Brenek nodded. Savenek exited his room, closing the door behind him.

Now that he’d ditched his guard, he needed to find a way out of the Royal Chambers. He wanted some time alone. He couldn’t face Rema and Darmik right now, and he didn’t want to be stuck in his room with someone watching his every move. Heading away from the sitting room, Savenek crept along the hallway to the adjacent bedchamber. After pushing the door open, he went inside. Going over to the window, he saw he was on the third floor. He reached out, about to push the window open. “What are you doing?” Darmik demanded. Savenek cursed. He was never taken by surprise like that.

How had he not heard Darmik approach? “Did you think you could sneak out of the window?” Darmik asked. “Go traipsing around the palace and no one would notice?” Well, yes, that was exactly what Savenek had thought. “I need to be alone.” Darmik stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. “I don’t like having someone watch me while I’m trying to sleep,” Savenek added. He’d spent his life learning to hide in the shadows and avoid detection. Darmik sighed. “Not this again.” “What?” “Your sister would argue this very point with me all the time.” He folded his arms across his chest.

“I’ll make the same deal with you that I made with her. There will be two guards posted outside your room at all times. However, you will not exit via the window. Ever. Understood?” Savenek cocked his head to the side. Was Darmik trying to parent him? The thought nettled his nerves. His biological father hadn’t been around during his entire life. Darmik couldn’t just show up now, when he needed Savenek, and expect Savenek to jump and do his bidding. Instead of answering, he changed the subject. “How’d you know I was in here?” The room appeared to be similar to Savenek’s.

While it was grand, it wasn’t opulent enough for an empress and emperor. If this wasn’t Darmik’s room, then had Brenek tattled on Savenek? “Intuition. It’s something your sister would have done.” Again, a reminder of the twin sister Savenek would never know. Would he spend his life trying to live up to her legacy? Would he constantly be in her shadow? “Considering everything I’ve learned tonight, all I’m asking is for some time alone to process my new reality.” Without someone staring at him. He didn’t think it was too much to ask.


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