Asmodeus could hear it inside the black carriage, like an echo in the wind. He could hear the noise, but he paid no heed to it. His gaze burned the palm of his hands as his breathing turned ragged.
The carriage reflected the house of the dead - silent and infectious.
It’s been a long time, he thought with contempt.
He moistened his dry, cracked lips with his tongue, and wiped away the sweat from his brow. The month-long journey took a toll on him now, and the chaotic welcome only worsened it.
The intrusive urge to order the footman to turn the carriage around tempted him.
His eyes shifted to the young man sitting in front of him. This man possessed long, white flowing hair that reached his chest and had pale blue eyes with a tinge of violet.
In contrast to his appearance, he wore dark, heavy chain mail over a thick tunic with navy blue trousers. The shiny outline of his scabbard peeked behind all the layers of armor; almost dazing the prince in his seat.
“It’s time.” The man informed.
Asmodeus took a deep breath.
“Would you stop me if I turned this carriage back, Armageddon?” Asmodeus questioned with a dry laugh.
Armageddon's face shadowed a ghost of a smile.
“And go where, Your Highness? The Justiciar knows all.”
Asmodeus shivered at just imagining the Justiciar's piercing gaze. The man was formidable.
The carriage door burst open, cutting Asmodeus off as he meant to talk more. The horses neighed at the sudden force and prompted Armageddon to unsheath his sword from its scabbard.
Rather than facing a formidable enemy, a lanky fellow dressed in heavily embellished clothing greeted them from the other side instead.
Despite his extravagant clothing, the man possessed the aura of a reckless servant.
“I apologize, Your Highness!” The fellow squeaked in high-pitch when the tip of Armageddon's sword traced down his throat, “But the King cannot wait any longer. He wishes to his son at once!”
Asmodeus gritted his teeth upon hearing the news.
Armageddon sheathed his sword upon deeming the young servant harmless. What a welcoming entrance indeed, Asmodeus chuckled.
Without another word, the Knight stepped down from the carriage first and examined his surroundings.
Commonfolk surrounded the entrance leading to the capital of Albein, desperate to sneak a peek of their prince's face. Men, women, and children littered the streets as well as pillars as curiosity bested them.
He noticed a certain quandary with the common folk, feeling something amiss. The atmosphere certainly wasn't welcoming as he felt tension and fear from their stares.
Asmodeus paid no mind to the common folk's plight as he descended down the steps of the carriage to join Armageddon.
Asmodeus paid no mind to the common folk as he descended from the carriage. Too soon he laid his eyes on the four pillars that supported the arch dome, the ghost of the past whispered in his ear.
Without another word, the lanky fellow ran jittery to the pathway leading to the large stone-hedged doors at the end of the entrance hall.
Two flags perched from each side of the door proudly waved the Koron sigil and its gold-soaked embroidery with Knights in black armor lined up along the pathway.
The town crier, whose clothing blended with stone, cleared his throat.
“Let us welcome the first of his name, the honorable defender of the land, and the third son of His Majesty King Hector, Asmodeus Octavio of House Koron!”
Trumpets resounded throughout the hall, but the common folk could only gawk as the men descended the path. Even the children dared not cheer in the face of their prince as they cowered from his presence.
Despite his calm composure, Asmodeus’ headache only peaked his bloodlust. He wanted nothing more than to rip the man’s throat responsible for his misery.
From his view, the man’s face responsible greeted him too soon. He emerged from the vortex within the stone-hedged doors along with a few men whom he recognized immediately.
The raspy voice of King Hector flooded the entrance hall, silencing even the musicians who played the trumpets and the attending common folk. He wore a marvelous gold cloak over his white, silk gown. His flesh sunk in his cheekbones; his short, white hair was almost a shadow on his head.
The sight baffled the prince for how long they’d been apart, he looked older than he should be. Before his hand could draw the tilt of his sword, he felt Armageddon’s piercing stare on his back.
“My son,” Hector spoke, his voice loud and clear. He stretched his arms as an invitation. “My son, Octavian, has returned!” he tearfully announced, and the vicinity broke out in deafening ovations. The common folk screamed and clapped at the King’s beckon, but their contorted faces said otherwise. Confusion befell the welcoming entourage.
“Your Majesty,” A tall man with a slender figure dressed in black with a red shawl adorning his shoulders leaned in the King’s ear, “That is not Octavian.”
“Nonsense, Ariadne!” Hector chastised. Ariadne cowered from the might of the King’s voice for even in his sickly appearance, he wielded authority.
“Don’t you see? It is him.”
“Now,” Hector turned back to Asmodeus. “Why have you not paid your respects to your father, my son?”
Armageddon observed as the prince’s hands crumpled into fists. He fiercely thought of a way to stop his imminent frenzy, but alas, he was too late.
“He, who cannot find it in himself to respect others, shan’t be respected at all.” Asmodeus declared. His voice was smooth, but sharp that even the common folk felt outraged.
“How dare you speak ill of His Majesty, Your Highness? The Academy has failed to uphold its teachings, I see!” Ariadne exclaimed. The common folk stood silent, their eyes piercing Asmodeus’ back.
“I see you still cannot hold your tongue even in my welcoming entourage, Ariadne,” Asmodeus smirked, referring to the King’s Hand; his gaze fixated on the King. Ariadne was angered by this, but Hector deterred him before he could counter.
“I’m amused, Your Majesty,” Asmodeus expressed. “What brings the strong and mighty King of Koron to order a decree of a sinner's return to his shores?” His smirk turned into a frown, “Though I asked, I am aware of the reason.”
The tension in the air only grew as the common folk now whispered among themselves.
What was the King thinking to order such a decree?!
Koron must be falling!
Koron shall fall in the hands of a murderer!
I fear we shall enter a Dark Age!
Armageddon tuned in to the common folk’s plight, his hand ready to draw his Zweihander. Asmodeus coolly lowered Armageddon's hand to the ground without breaking eye contact with the King.
“Calm yourselves, people of Koron, for I have come here not as a member of House Koron for I have tossed that identity long ago. I come here as an Ironfist Knight by King Hector's decree.” He announced, silencing the common folk.
“And if you truly must open your mouth, Durand, may I remind you that you benefitted most greatly from my exile?” He turned to Ariadne Durand, the King’s Hand.
“That’s enough, Octavian.” Hector appealed, his voice growing weak.
“You have no power over me, Your Majesty, for you have brought this upon yourself. I merely followed your decree to pay my respects and uphold the Knight’s Creed. Now if you may pardon me,” Asmodeus told.
The entourage passed the King and his Right Hand Council. But before Asmodeus entered the stone halls, he looked back at his shoulder.
“Your adopted bastard is long dead.”