Blood dripped from the edge of his blade, bright scarlet against the steel. It filled his nostrils with an acrid tang, his mouth with the taste of iron. It oozed, hot and sticky, from the wound in his forehead, long but shallow.

Kneeling, he wiped the blade clean on the shirt of one of the fallen. There were ten in all, though he couldn’t claim credit for every death. In their haste to end him, several had killed each other. He may have helped them into the path of each other’s bullets, but that didn’t excuse their negligence. Still, it was more than he’d ever faced on his own. More than he’d ever killed in the grip of the rage.

Much as crimson had stained his vision during the confrontation, it now spattered the ground and corpses alike, as though tiny burgundy blooms had sprung from the wake of the battle. He walked amid the lifeless forms, counting the cuts and slashes his trusty weapon had made. Too many. Blood welled like lava from each gash, browning as it began to dry.

It was hard to keep his hand from shaking as he slid his blade back into its sheath. It was hard not to remember the surge of adrenaline, his heartbeat in his ears, the overwhelming urge to rend, to kill. He paused at the edge of the carnage and closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath.

When he opened them again, he tried to look elsewhere. He noted the cyan of the sky and the emerald of the leaves, but they didn’t banish the memory of blood punctuating the depths of his savagery.

At least this time, it had released him. But only after the rest were dead. If he hadn’t been alone, what then? He still couldn’t entirely identify friend from foe. The bloodlust that claimed him in those darkest moments didn’t care to discern between the two.

He had never before fled the battlefield, even if the images often haunted his dreams.

Thirty paces from the clearing he found a river, running clear and cold. He used it to clean his wounds, to wipe the caking blood from his forehead, and to rinse the iron taste from his tongue.

Then he hurried back, patting the pockets of each of the dead until he found the case which contained the stolen documents. They were all there; he checked twice, careful not to smudge the pristine white pages with dirt or gore. Then he folded them back into their carrier and tucked them into his pocket.

There wasn’t time to clean up the mess. By the time the border patrol passed this way, he had to be long gone. A horse would carry him the ten miles it took to reach the end of the wilderness, then a train would be waiting to carry him back home.

* * * * *

Crimson curtains swayed in the breeze. Beyond the open window, fluffy white clouds drifted through an azure sky. Padded, wine-coloured carpet led to the opposite end of the hallway, which ended in two large mahogany doors. He paused with his hand on the doorknob, not to take in the fresh spring breeze, but to try to forget.

A vase filled with roses sat on the table in the center of the next room. Another set of gauzy, crimson curtains danced by the window. And the queen wore a ruby coloured dress as she lowered herself into one of the padded chairs. He tried not to stare as he lowered himself into the chair she indicated, across from her, on the other side of the roses.

He’d never noticed before how much red filled the palace. It was a noble colour, he supposed, befitting of the royal family. It was a color of action, of grace and of passion. Of death and destruction.

“You’re troubled,” she said, her voice soft. It wasn’t a question.

He looked into her eyes, blue as the midnight sky and studded with the light of stars all their own. Eyes that few people could bear to look into for more than a few seconds. They had never frightened him half so much as what lived inside his soul.

“It’s getting worse,” he replied.

“Stronger, you mean.”

“Out of control is what I mean. We have to stop this.”

New light flickered behind the stars in her eyes. “We cannot. We need this power, Domerin. You need it.”

“I have never shrunk from a task you set to me, but this is asking too much. What will you do when I lose myself completely? Whose life will I take? You heard what Rilan said that first night. I almost…”

“Denying the beast won’t banish it, now it’s awake,” the queen insisted, folding her hands in front of her. Her long nails were painted cherry-red. They were difficult to ignore. “Control is what you need. You have to touch the power if you’re ever going to contain it.”

Domerin wondered what would happen if he ever told her no. But in the face of her vision, how could he? “Then we need to do it a different way. I didn’t sign up for this job to become a mindless killing machine.”

She straightened her back and stiffened her jaw. He knew, better than any, how little she liked to hear ‘no.’ She could order him, of course. But they both knew what would happen if she gave the wrong one.

“Very well,” she said at last upon the breath of a sigh. “We will find the answer together.”

“Let’s hope so,” he agreed. He glanced over her shoulder, out the window, at the orange, gold and magenta blossoms that dotted one of her many gardens. He hoped this course of action would allow the brutal memory of recently shed blood to release him.

Be sure to check out my writing partner’s version of this prompt!

If you’d like to participate, leave a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

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