"Hey, Koutoku what are you doing?"
That sudden voice woke him up from his slumber. He immediately opened his eyes only to a golden decoration of dragon circling a pearl at the ceiling of his chamber bed. His breath heavily as an enormous pain stung him from inside of his body. Even as his body was covered with sweat, he still felt hot.
"Your...majesty..." One of his royal physicians came to check on his condition. His hand which was covered with reddish itchy boils was held by the physician. He could see that the physician tried hardly to endure the feeling of nauseas. The red boils that covered his whole body also gave out stinky pungent smell that makes everyone to vomit even as they smell it from a mile away.
After the usual check up, a few other physicians stepped forward to put on lotion made from a mixture of aloe vera and goat milk to his skin. The lotion, although help reduce itchiness but only last for a few moment. After that, he will again felt itchy and feverish. . He just led them do whatever they want without having any intention of speaking up. No matter what they tried to do, he will not heal from this disease.
"Koutoku, come on!"
The voice that what was calling for him a moment ago echoed again in his head. He believed that because of fever he started to hallucinate about his past memories. He then closed his eyes as he wished that his slumber could take him to the distant past about twenty years ago.
Koutoku who was entertained by five courtesans looked surprised to see his brother, the newly crowned First Emperor of The Kou Kingdom decided to show his face in the lowly in the brothel house. His older brother must hear about his visit to the brothel from his loyal bodyguard that sent from his older brother to watch over him.
"Brother...no...your majesty, do not be such a spoil sport. Here let have some wine to celebrate your coronation." Koutoku said in drunken state.
"Koutoku, are you keen on tainting our royal family name?" Hakutoku asked bitterly.
"Our royal family name? What does that have anything to do with me? You are the emperor not me. I am only the second son of the late Kou King." Koutoku said gleefully.
"I know that you are grieving over you wife death but you still have children. You still have Kouen and Koumei. They need you to guide them."
"I heard about the new decree. Are you sure you will be okay to see the massacre of the Go royal family? Especially, seeing their children' death? Are you ready to be tainted with their innocent blood?" Koutoku asked with a cynical tone.
"You...!" Hakutoku grabbed Koutoku's collar robe as he punched his younger to his face. The punch caused Koutoku to fell to the ground.
"You are no longer a brother of mine." Hakutoku said in a disappointed tone as he left the brothel together with his royal bodyguards.
Koutoku caught a glimpse of people in the brothel who looked amusingly toward him. He knew in their mind he was a pathetic worthless lord. However, he could not careless. He just smirks as he dozed up like any other drunken man. Koutoku stood up with the help of his servant. He was dragged to his carriage.
Suddenly, a pigeon bird flew and settles down at the window panel of his carriages. The pigeon's neck was tied with a metal bottle. He dropped his act as he solemnly took the small metal bottle as he opened it. A small but long piece of paper was found in roll inside of the bottle. Koutoku roll the paper to the metal bottle; it is the way to decipher the code letter.
"We, the Go remaining royalty
had already aboard the ship.
We are forever at your debt.
Koutoku sighed in relief. He was worried that his plan did not work. He was using himself as a decoy so that the remaining Go royal family were able to escape to an inhabitated island at the end of Tenzan plateau. It is only a matter of time before his brother realised that a ship containing Go royal member had set sail leaving the newly founded Kou Kingdom.
"Better get ready for our second act." Koutoku said to his retainer. He already arranged another identical ship to be burnt to make impression that all Go royal family died in that ship.
"My lord, why are you helping the Go royal family?" His retainer asked. Helping the Go royal family who were wanted is considered to be treason.
"It is for my brother sake." Koutoku answered. "Because I do not wish he has so many innocent bloods in his hand. He maybe an emperor but he is also a man. How hard it was for him to gave a decree to execute all family royal of Go because of the pressure from the nobles. How can he survive when he saw baby and young children to be murdered just so he can maintain his sovereignty?"
"This shall be the last you see me. After you set the fire to identical ship as the one containing the Go royal families, you will forget everything about this incident and also about me." Koutoku tapped his retainer's shoulder.
His retainer froze for a moment before shove with laughter. "What are you talking about, my lord? I will never leave your side."
"I am just teasing you he he..." Koutoku smiled naughtily as he ordered his loyal servant quickly to the sea where a ship was waiting to be burnt.
Koutoku's face changed when his retainer was no where to be seen. He had given his retainer a special powder drug made by one great magician during the time he tapped his retainer shoulder. The drug will cause his retainer to lose his memories. Memories that Koutoku had said to his retainer just a few moment ago.
"Sometime in order to protect something, we need to sacrifice certain thing..." Koutoku burn the code letter. "Even if it I have to sacrifice a family ties...or friendship!"
The sound of his chamber door open stopped his chain of thought. His inability to move prevented him from knowing who dare to enter his royal private chamber. However, the strong scent of orchid hinted him of his visitor identity.
"Empress..." He said as his eye pupils turn to his other side of the bed. Gyokuen stood together with two of palace maids; one of the maiden carried a tray with a bowl of herbal medicine.
"Your majesty." The empress curtsied gently as she flashed a pleasant smile toward Koutoku. Koutoku was dazed at his empress beauty which never faded even after more than twenty years he had known her.
"As usual, I brought medicine to reduce your pain. May your majesty recovered from your illness," Gyokuen said as she sobbed sadly.
Koutoku stared at her as he raised his hand toward her. Gyokuen bend her upper body toward the sick emperor.
"Can you please drop your act? You disgust me!" Koutoku whispered softly as his breath heavily.
Gyokuen still able to maintained her fake smile. "Leave us. I would like to have a heart to heart conversation with my beloved emperor."
"Yes, your majesty."
After the two palace maids left the Kou's emperor private chamber, Gyokuen's face changed. Her gentle and elegance face turn cynical and neurotic.
"Why the sudden change in your words, your majesty? You sadden me." Gyokuen said with fake tone of sadness. "I understand. This must be because of your illness. Please, take this medicine. I boiled it myself."
Koutoku refuse to drink the medicine as he smirked weakly. "Lately, I am getting tired to play with you tune. Maybe it is because of the medicine that you 'boiled' yourself."
Gyokuen just smirked. She was not surprised that Koutoku knew about the poison that she put on the herbal medicine. She knew he would not have any other choice than to drink it anyway. There is no use to tell anyone; everyone in the Kou's palace was on her side.
"My days are numbered. Maybe it is time for us to have a real 'heart-to-heart' conversation, Gyokuen." Koutoku said softly as he had only little energy left.
"Very well, let me do this one good deed for you, Koutoku." Gyokuen sat in the chair situated just beside Koutoku bed. She crossed her leg as she grinned evilly. Her eyes started to change. Her white eyes turned to black while her black pupil turned to red.
"When you choose to marry me, I thought you are the most despicable, wicked and greedy man who was willing to marry the wife of his late brother in other to become emperor. I agree to marry you because to you are worthless and weak making it easy to control you." Gyokuen said without holding a breath. However her neurotically face changed as she sighed genuinely. "Just when I thought that everything is going my way...you are actually the receiver of the light..."
"How dare you tricked me?!!!! Do you think you can get away after treating me like that?!!!" Gyokuen grabbed Koutoku's throat, intent on squeezing the remaining life out of him. Koutoku struggled to breathe as he also grabbed Gyokuen's hand.
Suddenly, Gyokuen released her grip before she grinned. She stared at Koutoku who was weakening from her attack.
"And for that, you are punished with worst punishment ever. To die in an image of a tyrant when you are actually were trying to protect your people. People will spread a story about Emperor Koutoku, who usurped the throne after his brother death. Your children...they hate you. You are not a good brother nor are you a devoted father. You are not even a great emperor. Poor Koutoku, you will die as a lonely and despicable man. In the end, your sacrifice turns to waste!" she said as she laughed manically.
Koutoku was left alone in his royal chamber where no light was able to penetrate the tightly closed door and window. He who was an emperor was left to die with no one by his side.
"Ironically, she was right. A good brother, a kind father or a great emperor; I am none of those..."
Suddenly a single form of light appeared in front of him. The white light which took form of a butterfly was actually a rukh - a soul of death people. The light from the butterfly-like rukh grew bigger and bigger until it form a shape of a woman.
"And yet you are all of those..." The woman sat beside Koutoku as she touched his cheek lovingly. "In a way they were not able to see or understand..."
"My beloved 'Jade'..." Koutoku smiled weakly at his beloved late first wife who came back to him in a form of rukh. He always called her by her nickname Jade as her real name was Liling which mean 'Beautiful Jade Tinkle'.
"Will the pain in your heart lessen if I tell you that you are the most kind and beloved husband of mine?" Liling asked gently. Her eyes looked sad to see her beloved husband in this kind of condition.
"Your word... is enough for me... to endure everything..." Koutoku struggle to speak as his breathing become more difficult. His eyes felt heavy. His body felt as light as a feather.
"It is okay, I am here. I will always be by your side until you are able to go with me to the other side." Koutoku could only hear Liling voice as his eyes closed down.
A good brother, a devoted father or a great emperor, none of those titles bear any meaning for him.
Even if he had to endure loneliness...
Even if everyone turns their back own him...
He would never blame them.
Because love mean sacrifice and because of his love for his brother, his children and his people; he, Ren Koutoku, would sacrifice everything....