“Is that… REAN?” Kakane peered over Serena’s shoulder in awe.
From the Pure Soul Puppet Core had emerged a strange blue light that Serena was currently fiddling with. It was covered in strange words and lettering Kakane didn’t recognize. Serena was actively deleting and writing new symbols into the light, constantly looking beside her where a pile of notes laid. The papers detailed the translation of the stone tablet unearthed earlier, which, fortunately for Kakane and Serena, told how to code free will into puppets.
“I mean… Sort of?” Serena pursed her lip. “They’re its logic circuits, so it’s more like its brain. But I’m also programming its heart, or where it feels emotion. It’s complicated.”
“Interesting…” Kakane looked out the window of their workshop. The sun was high over the trees, casting shadows over the various trinkets in the room. He turned to Serena. “It’s about lunchtime. I’ll go to the kitchens; do you want anything?”
“It’s okay, I’ll come with you. It’s been a while since I’ve eaten with Mira and Megrez.”
Kakane helped Serena off her stool, taking her hand and leading her to the door. The doctors deemed her well enough to move around, but being bedridden and sickly had taken a toll on her muscles. Kakane, with assistance from Mira and Megrez, was helping Serena by helping her move around. Megrez frequently took walks with Serena in the royal gardens while Mira led her to feed ducks in the pond. For everyday matters such as this, Kakane took over.
Serena never fought him, but she always seemed like she had words unspoken on the tip of her tongue. Kakane had a feeling he knew that they were, but he didn’t ask. Serena smiled gratefully at him and he weakly offered a grin back. It was moments like these that he absolutely despised himself, for a variety of reasons.
They ate in silence, sitting in the gazebo at the royal gardens. Unfortunately, Mira and Megrez weren’t able to join them, and nor was Kai. It was quite awkward with just the two of them there. Kakane forced himself to stare at the fish swimming in the pond, though he was itching to run off and just eat by himself in peace. Besides, who liked watching fish swim around? It was as boring as watching paint dry. But he did get some kick out of watching a heron swoop down and pluck a stupid, fat fish right out of the water.
Serena did not seem as amused and crinkled her nose upon seeing blood spurt out of the fish and paint the heron’s beak. Perhaps she was having flashbacks to the roc’s assault; it was easy to imagine that she saw herself as the poor fish in the heron’s beak. When the heron gulped down the fish in one go, Kakane shuddered to think that might have been Serena.
“Do you know what kind of fish that was?” Serena asked. Kakane looked at her awkwardly.
“Why would I know? I might be a king, but even I don’t know everything.” He glanced at the pool. “It looked orange. An orange fish. But some of them look like cattle.”
“Cattle? Like, black and white? Odd.”
“Is it? Don’t they just look like the clouds’ reflection on the water’s surface?”
“Do they?” Serena leaned forward to peer at the fish. “Huh, they do. Sort of.”
“I once knew a guy whose back looked like that,” Kakane reminisced, touching his scar. “It was all cloudy and wispy; it looked like a master artist had stuck their brush in the sunset and painted the sun, sky, and clouds on his back.”
“Interesting… Was it a tattoo?” Kakane flinched, looking away from her awkwardly.
“Uh, well, no… It was natural. Um, it’s hard to explain but…” Kakane took a deep breath. “You know how animals look different depending on their surroundings?”
“Well, it was sort of like that. He had been in the wild for so long that his body just sort of started to look like his environment. Does that make any sense?”
“Yes, I suppose… I didn’t know people could adapt like that, though. Who exactly was this person?” Kakane shifted uncomfortably.
Should he tell her? Well, it wouldn’t hurt anyone, would it? Kakane supposed Serena had some right to know a little about himself…
“It was, um… My… My father.” He coughed nervously and looked away from Serena, who was blinking rapidly.
“Your father? Does your back look like how you described?” Kakane shook his head.
“No… ” He paused for a moment. “I often heard that… That I was like the spitting image of my father in his youth. I had his eyes, but I inherited my mother’s attitude.”
“Do you miss them?”
“You’ve never talked about your family much,” Serena said quietly. “And I’ve never seen you writing letters or anything of the sort. So that’s why I’m asking.”
“Of course I miss them,” Kakane said bitterly. “They’re dead.”
“Oh… I’m sorry for asking.”
“It’s fine. They’ve been gone for ten years… I… I never really got to know them well since they died when I was six. All I have are scraps of memories and fragmented bits of conversation. That’s how I know what my father looks like, that I resemble him, and that I inherited my mother’s disposition. Anyway, what about you? Don’t you miss your family? You left them behind when you decided to run off with me.” Serena’s expression turned sour.
“I don’t… I don’t think my mother and father really cared for me,” she sighed. “All they cared about was my magic and the riches that came with it. You see, I was one of seven people who could use magic in my village. We were highly coveted and desired. My parents got rich off of bribes from the elder.”
“How disgusting,” Kakane spat. “Your childhood… Must not have been a happy one.” Serena shook her head.
“It really wasn’t… But there’s some hope yet for the people of Zetreum Village.”
“And what might that be?” “My little sister, Haruka. We were never particularly close and I get the feeling that she thoroughly despised me.”
“Why is that?” Kakane asked.
“I was the prodigy child… Unlike me, Haruka was born without magic. It was clear my parents never really paid attention to her. Despite this, she worked hard and never relied on magic to make things easier for herself. It was odd, especially for someone whose elder sister was a prodigy. She was a swordswoman despite it being forbidden for girls to take up arms in our village. I bore witness to her blade work once… It was beautiful.”
“A rebel… And a swordswoman to boot. I have a feeling I would get along with your sister,” Kakane mused. Serena chuckled.
“Yes, her fierce, unyielding spirit reminds me a lot of you… Perhaps that’s why I’ve stayed as long as I have. But… No, I’m here because I want something to do something.”
“Yeah… We’re basically done here,” Kakane motioned to their empty plates, “so we should head back inside. REAN’s almost finished, right? Honestly, I can’t wait to meet the damn thing already. A king does not like to be kept waiting, and he is always eager to meet his subjects.”
“Yes… Neither can I.”