Behind Closed Doors
Jalireth looked upon the gate with clear apprehension, patting his pegasus, Celba, on the shoulder as he stared at the nightmare landscape and the equally dismal and dark castle directly before him. The gate itself was swung wide open, something that would seem welcoming anywhere else, but here it appeared as a gaping maw waiting to devour him. It was an image that wasn't too comforting for what he was about to do, but one that seemed all too fitting.
"Thank you for coming with me," Jalireth murmured, stroking Celba's mane as he hesitated. "You can go home now, if you wish.
Celba shook his head and nuzzled Jalireth, bringing a wing down and forward across Jalireth's shoulder in a comforting gesture.
"No, you should. I'll get home by my own means after this. I don't know what to expect, but I'll feel safer if you are far from here. I've heard my father is a cruel and terrible person, and though I know he will not harm me, I don't know what he'd do to anyone else."
This did nothing to assuage Celba's fear at leaving Jalireth behind, but he couldn't argue. Jalireth stroked Celba's nose fondly, then walked into the shadowy courtyard alone, turning only to watch Celba leave.
The perpetual twilight was already making Jalireth feel as if he walked through dreams, suspended in time, everything shrouded and changed by the strangely tinted light. He looked around and saw motion, heard echoing skitters and muffled voices from windows and open doors, yet it still seemed surreal. They seemed more like echoes of some past than products of the present.
For a moment he hesitated, wanting to see the other denizens of the castle, knowing that among them numbered friends, but now was not the time. He was here for one reason only. It was time to confront the nightmares. It was time to face the truth.
It was time to meet his father for the first time.
He did not have to ask the way. He walked up the flight of stairs that lead to the great double doors, standing in the great hall within only long enough to get his bearings. He'd traveled this path countless times in his dreams. It took no effort now to wend his way through halls and doors to the center of the castle and up the stairs to Lord Bivran's chambers.
He simply threw open the doors, knowing in the back of his head that his father was expecting him and knew he was already here. This knowledge did not mean, however, that the lord of the castle had at all prepared for his presence. Bivran was sprawled on the couch, clothed only in the flesh of an angel who was draped, also nude, across Bivran's lap.
"Hello, Fei," Jalireth whispered.
Fei jumped up, blushing as he looked between them. "Jalireth!" He ran over and hugged the young prince, largely unconcerned with his state of dress.
Jalireth stood stiffly at first, just staring at his father, largely unconcerned with the angel hugging him. It was only when Fei began to droop a little, hurt by Jalireth's indifference, that Jalireth returned the hug tightly and kissed Fei on the cheek. "You were the last person I expected to see here," Jalireth whispered.
Bivran stood, pulling a robe on casually. "Fei!" His voice rang through the room, cutting off any response Fei might have made to Jalireth.
Fei looked over curiously, head cocked to the side.
Bivran walked over, grabbing Fei away from Jalireth almost possessively and yet gently at the same time. It was a move Jalireth hardly expected, and it left his eyes clouded with confusion. Bivran kissed Fei, deeply and thoroughly, then murmured softly. "Leave us alone."
Fei clung for a moment, eyes betraying his emotion and the knowledge that this was more than just a dismissal. It was goodbye. He reluctantly nodded, squeezing his eyes shut and taking a deep breath before forcing a smile on his face and letting go. A moment later he disappeared in a shower of golden sparkles.
Jalireth and Bivran were alone.
Silence ruled for long moments as they looked each other over. Bivran slowly began to smile, walking in a circle around his son, reminding Jalireth of a shark circling prey. I know I'm safe though. I'm not so much his son as his creation. He worked hard for my creation. He risked much. He needs me. He will not harm me.
He wished he could believe that in his heart.
"Hello, Father," he whispered.
Bivran stepped before him and nodded. "You came. I wasn't sure you would."
Jalireth had no answer to that. He hadn't been sure himself if he would or not. "I had to see, with my own eyes, what sort of monster you are."
The words were mild and matter-of-fact. Bivran's response was a simple nod as he turned and walked back to the couch he'd been sprawled on before. "Sit down, Jalireth. We have much to discuss, and not nearly enough time."
"Not enough--" Jalireth blinked in confusion. "I'm not going anywhere. We have all the time we need."
"You might," Bivran said softly, "but I do not. Sit."
The young prince sat, clearly confused, but stunned by what he'd said. "What do you mean? Why wouldn't you have time?" Did he have plans? Was this not important to him? How could that be?
"I am dying."
The words ran through Jalireth like an arctic winter wind, numbing and stinging and freezing his soul instantly. "Dying?"
"It is not only my lands that were cursed. I've hung on longer than I should have been able to already, waiting to see you."
A swirl of emotion ran through Jalireth. Here he was, sitting before the father he'd always been told to hate, finding the one thing he'd always wished for in the secret darkness of his heart, where he kept wishes he should never admit. He had a parent who genuinely wanted him. A parent he'd only just met and was already losing.
It was too much to fathom. He shut it away, reminding himself that the man before him was a cold-blooded murderer who had raped his mother to bring him into being. This man only cared inasmuch as his spell was successful. That was it.
"Then you had better hurry in telling me what it is you have to say," Jalireth said in a rough voice, leaning back in the chair he sat in, brim of his ever present hat shading his eyes and disguising the emotions that were so obvious in his gaze.
Jalireth was never sure, afterward, how long they spoke. His conflict of emotions was not at all abated as he turned his back on the room, wiping tears from cold eyes, boots ringing on the stone floors of the hall. Behind him, still in the chambers of the lord of the castle, a lifeless body lay upon the couch, the pose a mockery of Lord Bivran's earlier casual posturing.
He found his way out of the castle and stared out at the crimson twilight sky, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. He stood like that for a long time, intervals marked only by the cigarettes he burned through.
A commotion from the castle behind him finally snapped him from his reverie, and he sighed, eyes closing. Finally, he teleported home.