Throne

"Don't worry," Levantine squeezed Raesh's shoulder comfortingly, "the Aspidistra is fine. Unlike what's going on in the Recherche, we have no struggle for power here." She held on a strand of her long hair and lightly combed it with her fingers, unconcerned. "Everything is balanced," she whispered like a mantra, "Daddy made sure of it."

"What about Deimus and Devon? What about Phobos?" Raesh asked, unfazed, "they're not the type of people that that would settle being second, much less third. They'll destroy each other as soon as Heltross leaves his post. You would, too, frankly speaking."
"And you don't want it, Raesh?" Levantine asked quietly, still brushing her hair. Her eyes tinged with gentle curiosity as they stare at her, "do you not want to be the leader of the most important society in the world? All of those people who had shun you before, hurt you and belittle you; you can make them vanish. No one will question and gladly would dispel them as you wish. Because all of us had been through it. With simple manipulation, we could get rid those who oppose us before," Levantine slowly carved out a dream-like smile, "All five of us are born leaders. We all are fit for the throne when Aspidistra leads Veribus and we all want it for different things. I want it because I'm the only one who would truly keep my father's legacy. Deimus wants it because after attaining the highest power he could possible achieved, perhaps that could stop his obsession in pursuing it. Devon wants it because he's scared and paranoid that we would turn on him and treat him as a slave like he was before. Phobos wants it to show the world and himself that he can overshadow his brother and keep the position stable from my indecisiveness, Deimus' greed and Devon's fear. And you Raesh, you want it because you secretly want to destroy it." Her smile fades exchanging with a stoic look. "But even that isn't enough to destroy the Aspidistra."

"I never want it," Raesh said, "I'll never want it as long as I live."
"I guess that's done with you," Levantine said, stroking her hair. "Now our decision is final."
"What?"
"With you not wanting it, it just leaves Deimus and Phobos to contest for the throne."
"Why has Devon been outed? Why you?"

"Devon and Deimus had settled the contest a long time ago. They battled each other for the throne and Deimus won. From then on, Devon could only help in the cause and in return he is solidly promised a high position," she said coolly, "while I, I'm aware of my weakness and what it can do to the Aspidistra and voluntarily stepped down. My father wanted a democratic party, anyway. But it's fine as long as I'm beside Deimus, making sure he wins." Levantine's eyes flickered sharply at Raesh, "I suggest you do the same for Phobos."

Battle

"So that's it."
"That's it," he confirmed, the contour of his face ablaze by the fire in each hand, his eyes the reflective black pool it always was shining with what Raesh finally notice: knowledge. He knew everything. He had seen and planned it for years. He researched and gained access from the Institute, the Recherche and finally the Aspidistra. All of this was his plan for power.

Trying to stall him as she try to figure out a plan, she said "It's funny, actually. Did you know that BD and Aurico told me not to trust you?"
"Flemend's suspicion of me is just a case of jealousy," he replied, "But Aurico has instincts. That's why she's such a good leader." 
"She never tried to keep a good eye on you. Because, as planned, Xavier would be leading the opposition party. Your plan is flawless," she admitted.
"Not nearly as I hope it to," he interjected, "By now, I should be able to hold power over Veribus but along my carefully-laid plan, there was a slight detour to the original."
"What happened?" she asked quickly, wondering if it could bring an advantage to her.

"You."
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Contradiction

"Keep in mind, Raesh," Aurico said, staring out to the practice field with a cup of tea in hand, "Never humanize the Aspidistra. Never."
_______________________________________

"We have a true purpose, Raesh," Phobos said earnestly, staring out to the battle field with a cup of coffee, "The Aspidistra is not so bad as we believe it to be."

Their Relationship


"He doesn't love me," Levantine bursted into tears. It scared Raesh to see them streaming down her face, like a child crying and you don't know what exactly what it wants, what it wants to hear. "He only uses me." She wiped a tear from her left cheek and through her emotional meltdown, you can see that she was shocked to see it as much as Raesh.
"Don't say that," Raesh finally quipped, attempting to hug Levantine for comfort, "You don't know." She wrapped her arms around her small shoulders and Levantine smeared her tears and into her left clavicle.
"Maybe I'd never know. And he'll still use me because he knows that I love him."

And that conversation popped up in her head, just as Deimus was helping her bandage her hand.
She cannot help but to look up at his face, his calm face, and imagine if it was really the same face that drinks Levantine's potions, that kisses her goodnight and gone the next morning, that counted on her to be there at his weakest and was never there for hers. The same, calm face, blinking and fixing his eyes on the bandage on her hand. She dropped her gaze just as he finished tying it.
"Take care of it, we don't want any infection," he said, lifting his eyebrows in concern.
It was scary how she almost betrayed her awkwardness when she was looking into his eyes, "Of course," she just said and rubbed her bandaged hand on her hip. He gave her a quick a smile and left.

Veribus

These series of events are special documentation based on the papers, journals, meeting diaries and notes of the life of Carraesh von Bennett who arguably had single-handedly brought down one of the most powerful secret association in the world. The sequence of defining events are true based on sworn eyewitnesses and had been studied and confirmed by all existing parties involved. The legimitacy of the dialogue are taken by the journals kept by Bennett throughout the years when critical events are taken place. Bennett had personally researched important figures involved in the events and the detailed descriptions of the major party are taken in full confidence. It is the purpose of these papers to clear any false facts regarding the events as well as a solid reference for future generations. Carraesh von Bennett now retires from any form of official duties for Veribus.

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Aftermath

"Raesh is gone."
BD sat up straight on his reclining chair, scrunching the newspaper in his hands, "What happened?"
He looked unsure. Morgan, who shared the same impenetrable cool demeanor as his cousin was clearly far from calm.
"She's not there. In her house. I can't smell her. Well, I can, but it's not as strongly as it use to. I can't find her anywhere. I asked the Office where she's been. There were no reports of her being sighted for a week. She's been gone for a few days, I'm sure of it."
"Do you think she's gone on purpose?" BD reasoned.
"She would've left a note or something…doesn't sound like her, I know, but she won't be gone this long without a word, would she?" Morgan looked at BD for confirmation.
BD avoided Morgan's searching face and drowned his throat with a cup of coffee, "Did you notify Aurico?"
"No, I haven't."
"Let's go then," BD said, getting up and walking to the door. "Hey," he said, stopping, noticing Morgan's downcast face, "don't look so worried. She knows how to take of herself."
"I know that but what if…they got her?"
BD stayed silent for a while, trying to fight the fear of the prospect, "All the more reason we need to notify Aurico."
"Carraesh Von Bennett was last detected at 21Curling Road, en route to a small town called Fyrig Digter two weeks ago on Monday, believing to be on the way to a small diner she frequented before," Sully chirped from Aurico's right hand side,  reciting the file papers like a student who was instructed to read a passage of a book from the teacher, "She was last seen by a female occupant who lives above a fishing store, 'Bass Trophy', while she was closing her window for the night, wearing a blue coat, grey pants and brown scarf. She never arrived at the mentioned diner and had not been seen leaving the town. She had not reported back to HQ since three days before her last sighting. She was reported missing by Regent Flemend LASTNAME and was vouched by Regent Morgan Kobalt seven days after her disappearance. An investigation team was placed for this case and we will now hear their official report." Sully sat down smartly, hands to his side, folding his waist, as all eyes diverted to the man who was standing up with a long face and small eyes with dull, parted hair.
He placed a hand over his stomach as he spoke: "The investigation team had spent 74 hours straight on this case and the report is as follows:" here, he took the file that was in front of him ever since the meeting started and examined the contents, "Carraesh Von Bennett's whereabouts are unknown for 127 hours. Her apartment has no sign of planned abandonment and contacts from the nearest location of last sighting reported no new information. However," he looked up, not needing to read the next lines on the paper, "they did report on a group of suspected Aspidistra members arriving at the small town two hours prior." There was instant murmur at the news. BD looked at the head of the table and Aurico locked gaze with him for two seconds before turning back to the speaker. "And there was no report that they left the small town either." The murmur heightened into a buzz with words flying like 'traitor', 'kidnap' and 'dead.' The man looked wary at the noise around him, still trying to finish his report.
"Err, the investigation team has no further evidence that could confirm the link between these two information," he said loudly, above the noise, "but there is no other leads to this case." Someone said: "Because it's obvious!"
"But based on sources, chances are likely that…," he looked around at the uncontrollable regents, exasperated and sighed, "it might as well have happened." He plopped down back to his seat, upset at the dim limelight he was given.
"Silence!" Aurico semi-shouted but everybody clamped their mouth shut. "We will now discuss the best point of action from here."
BD's deepest fear was reaffirmed. He glanced at Morgan who was sitting next to him. He was leaning against the back of his chair with his arms across his chest, chin upwards and eyes closed tightly.
Xavier, as always, would be the one to speak out first from the middle of the table, "She had obviously betrayed us all!" There was a roar from his closet supporters. "She must be passing messages at that small town diner and since she was demoted, she was of no more use here and was called back to join the Aspidistra." Shouts about the society's secret and security of members were jumping across the room. "It was a good thing she was demoted in the first place. I guess people placed their trust to the wrong person, eh?" There were jeers around the room at the attack to Aurico.
"Raesh was a high-performing Regent, very loyal and very honest," Sully spoke out, "What if it was because of her demotion, she was placed as easy target for the Aspidistra to corner her and kidnap her?"
"If she was such a high-performing Regent, why did she got kidnapped in the first place?" Someone at the end of the table asked.
Sully's face flushed with color. He wanted to justify himself but the idea of Raesh being incapable of dealing her own fights degraded her reputation.
"They must have sent someone strong," a Regent said in a reasonable tone, "to even nullify her for a short while. Remember the two students that was almost kidnapped by Rackdon members? Both of them would eventually become a member of the Recherche but they weren't even involved with our organization at that time. Surely it's not us that they are interested in but the people who they were trying to kidnap."
"Are you saying that Raesh could be recruited by forve?"
"Isn't that the same as betraying us?"
"I'm open to the suggestion."
"That's preposterous."
"She's powerful enough to get the Aspidistra's attention, I admit."
"She's one hell of a fighter."
"Aye."
"But would she even agree?"
"That or death."
"For the sake of all of us, she better choose death."
"She would, wouldn't she?"
"Every person for themselves. She jumped ship. A hundred percent."
"Now, I don't think---"
"I'm telling you. The best situation is that she's dead. The other one is that she's an Aspidistra."
"There is no evidence."
"You don't need one! It's bright as daylight!"
"I never really liked her. Especially since she got demoted…"
"She might as well start a new career in the Aspidistra. Simple as that."
"What a traitor."
"I just hope she knows how to hang a noose."
There was loud bang on the table. "SHUT UP, GOOD GOD!"
BD was waiting for Aurico to finally break her silence, instead it was the second person he thought that would. Morgan's fist left a dent on the table but the table's occupants were mostly looking at his face. His eyes turned bright and angry. Regents started to remember that Morgan was actually related to the person they were discussing about a moment ago and cowed as his eyes scanned the table. It rested at Aurico, who was analyzing the speculations happening in front of her. Aurico took a moment to speak.
"I guess someone had enough here so thank you for your wonderful thoughts and wishes to our fellow member," she said quietly, taking Sully's paper and skimmed it, "Either she dies or we do, right? I especially like the one about her jumping ships. Horace, you sounded so sure. How I love your confidence. However, I remember that I asked for our plan of action not her plan of action.  So why is it that no one gave a decent answer to my question?" Her voice turned furious as the air in the room started to suck slowly out from them. BD felt the air thinning, siphoning out with Aurico's anger, "How DARE you started mindless gossip in front of me. How DARE all you wasted my time. How DARE someone accuse a member of treachery. How DARE you exist. Xavier." Light-headed Regents turned to his direction, seeing him twitch an eyebrow muscle. "Don't start a pointless discussion. Our organization's security is the most important thing to assess. In whatever situation, if Von Bennett is dead or kidnapped or a member, the Aspidistra could get hold of valuable information about us and if she was alive and well, it might do some good to upgrade security. I hope all of you understand that." 
The silence that ensued meant a grave yes. Some people started to gasp for air.
"I still want the investigation team to continue their search but discharge half the disposable members back to resources," Aurico continued, ignoring the Regents who were starting to get difficulty breathing, "After today's discussion I want the security upgrade be affected immediately. We should focus to protect the Ancients and Archives since Von Bennett was a specialist in that biro. Let's begin." A sudden draft came as air flooded back to the room.

Group F Anthem

She tried to get his attention: "Dev."
"Yeah?"
"Do you still remember the songs I sing?"
"Yeah."
"So you can sing all the songs if I asked you to?"
"Yeah."
"Stop answering me like that," she snapped, slapping his knees, "Do ya or do ya not?"
"We sing it every single day!" he said. He sounds like he was complaining but he actually enjoys the short escape from digging. Her clear deep voice kept them from falling into fatigue, kept them working, still made them fight. "Of course I remember it."
"Good," she said, satisfied, "because from now on, you're in charge of singing."
His eyes widens the size of saucers, shining at the responsibility, "I am? I---I sing first? Wait," his tone turned suspicious, "Why am I in charge?"
"Silly," she grinned, "you earned it."
He looked a little confused, perhaps wondering about the reason how he earned it and looked up at her again, "What are you going to do if you're not going to be the first to sing?"
"I can't come to the mines that often no more, so you need to sing it first. Make sure the group's happy. Make sure they keep singing."
He could have asked where she was going, why she was not going to work at the mines anymore but instead he asked simply, "But when we sing, you'll come right? And sing with us?"
She looked at him like he just asked if she was an elephant. But when she turned her head, she realized by the worried look on his face that he was struggling with this new and very dear responsibility she entrusted to him, afraid if he cannot do it alone.
"Hey," she poked him in the chest and he jumped a little, "whenever you sing, I'll be there."


"Thank you, Devon," Levantine said, with a serene smile and pleasant tone as a pause ensued after Devon strummed the last note. All of them stayed quiet for a moment when Devon finished the song, as if they were afraid to break the silent spell that could make the melody seem to last a little longer in their head. Raesh never heard him sang but she was awestruck. Moments like these were rare between them, she could tell. It was hardly possible that Deimus would suddenly request for a song, much less that Devon would fulfill it without complaint. But they happened. Raesh doesn't know exactly what triggered this event; perhaps it was the light atmosphere everybody was enjoying, perhaps it was the way the warm tea that sloshes in their stomach or that the sunlight gave the clouds just the right rays to make it pink and orange. And the only thing that kept coming back to Raesh, the same thing that could continue to haunt her for many years to come, was the song.



We can tie ribbons through needles
And sing a song in dark tunnels.
We could do beautiful things.
We could do dangerous things.


We maybe sad but we still play our fiddles,
We maybe unlucky but oh, it would be wonderful,
To sing a song in darkness with our loudest feelings.
Perhaps someone would rescue us, someone would be listening.


We sing through the cracked skulls and anvils
It's where we're alive and it might be brutal
But where else would I go, darling?
This place is the closest to my heartstrings.



Levantine came over to Devon on the windowsill and kissed the top if his head, "That was lovely." He nodded and continued to stare out the sunset. He almost looked sad.
"Lev," Deimus said, getting up, "dinner?" She perked up to his invitation and nodded. He walked passed, patted Devon in the back for a job well done as Levantine hooked her arm over one of his and they left for the sounds and smell of Mess Hall. That was perhaps the closest thing to a date Raesh ever heard Deimus proposing. Phobos touched her shoulder. She whipped her head to him.

"Starved?" He asked. She smiled and stood up with Phobos. He linked an arm around her waist and they strolled out the door. "Devon," Phobos nodded, taking leave. Before they disappeared out the door, Raesh wanted to invite Devon along and turned to him. She stopped, mouth opened when she saw him with a balled up fist against his mouth, his eyebrows knitted in a way that showed that he was about to burst out in tears in any moment. She almost managed to call out, to ask what's wrong but Phobos already steered her out the door. She would never know the answer until many years later when she figured it out herself.

Consciousness II

 Levantine came in, holding up a tray of food (piping hot porridge and a glass with something murky green in it with an addition of bottled water) and looked troubly calm as if she was a nurse that just clocked in, ready for more bad news. She glanced at his bed and almost dropped the tray in shock, holding on to the door latch that she was still closing. "Phobos!" she cried, in relief and exasperation. "You're---" Alive? Not dead? Still here? "Awake!"
She slowed down her breathing and pulled up that smile that could light the whole world in place of the sun. She skipped to his bed and placed the tray on a table beside it then helping him up to a sitting position after fluffing his pillow ("Levantine...you don't need to do that, really.") and finally placed the tray gingerly on his lap, all the while fixed at his face like she was pleasantly surprised that he was conscious. She gasped without warning and Phobos twitched, rattling the bowl of porridge and the glass, the bottled water struck horizontal. "I need to tell Deimus!" she said, the thought just occured to her, already running to the door, "Eat your food!" She commanded, remembering, pointing to it before dissapearing.

He just started spooning the porridge when a cacophony blasted the door till it was hanging on its hinges. Phobos involuntarily flicked the porridge and it landed on his cheek as he saw the newly arrivals. Deimus was heaving at the door, staring disbelieving at awaken Phobos. The porridge on his cheek slid down slowly.
"Your mark," Deimus said, obviously getting to the core of the situation, "Where is it?"
It took him some time to process that until he realized the snaky imprint on his arm was the thing he gambled his life on. He gestured a nod to his left. Deimus lifted the sheet, scanned it and placed it down. He looked at Phobos, spoon still in hand, with an expressionless face, no trace of relief or joy for him. And he walked out.
Levantine was dumbstruck too.
She cast Phobos a puzzled look before leaving him to follow his brother.

Consciousness I

 He breathed it in air.
It was a short one, before realizing how badly he wanted it. He gulped it in again. Pain came back like an old friend into his hot, dry lungs. He felt relieved by it. It was so miniscule compared to what he had been through...an hour ago? Twenty minutes before? A week? Fourty years? He cannot even tell the time anymore. But it did not seem to be important. He opened his eyes and blinked. A face loomed above him. A blur of a creamish and yellow palette. A breath washes into his face. It smelt like something unpleasent. Ah, he still could see--and smell. His eyes fell again.
"...opened his eyes?"
"I think so."
"I'll call Elaiye. He'll make a check up on..."
The sounds were muffled like a pillow was covering his ears. Like time, details did not seem to be important. All he wanted was to breathe and fall back in to his comforting slumber. He liked the colour of his consciousness. Black and empty. Not red and pulsing. He felt secure now. It felt like he was in a safe, padded room but it was better than the drowning, boiling sea he had to endure for what seems to be forever. A grave, not a panic room.
The next time his eyes opened, the ceiling was orange. That was peculiar, he mused and squinted at it, trying slowly to figure out if orange was good. It took him a few minutes to assesed where exactly is he and what time was it without moving his head.
His back told him that he was lying on a bed, a sheet was covering him. He was glad to know that his sense of touch was acute enough to sense the wiry springs in the mattress. The stone ceiling above him definitely meant he was in a room of some sorts, a recovery room or a bedroom, and from the corner of his right eye, he could see a double wooden door. The breeze that blew in was strong. He must be in a storeyed building. And the orange glow that shrinked smaller and smaller as he stared up to it meant it was probably sunset. The orange glow left a comforting wash over him. It made him at ease. Only for so long.

He wanted to sit up. Where is everyone? He would not expect that they were caring for him on their hands and feet twenty-four-seven but he would just like to know one thing : Was he an Aspidistran? He was alive, obviously. Still alive. That meant he lived through the ordeal of the drug. He has to be one of them now. If he did not pass...all of what he accomplished and endured was in total vain. Then, into the execution room for him. To Phobos, right then and there, that would have been incredibly unfair.

Phobos made an attempt to hold himself up. He managed to move his right arm but he was immediately alarmed by his left, he can't feel a thing. He almost wanted to throw up with sickened worry. Amputated? He uncovered the sheet with his moving arm and saw that his left arm was still there. Unresponsive but there. He gave out an unstable sigh. Thank God. And he immediately noticed from his left collarbone snaking down midway his left arm, a black mark that looked like coiled vines and veins. He stared at it for a long time. The first thing that came into mind was: is it alive as much as he?
It was foolish to think so but it was so tangible on his skin that he only needed to prove that it was breathing. He heard the door creaked.