Loneliness permeated the halls of Genevieve’s dreary, depressing abode. Words spoken fell upon no ears but those of mice and other rodents which roamed about, leaving behind their filth and grime. Sometimes, birds would fly in through the open windows, sailing straight past the boundaries protecting her home and entering in hopes of building a nest sheltered from the weather. Even they seemed unwilling to remain within her presence for longer than a few fleeting seconds. A lifetime ago, she had been a ruler, beloved and desired by the populace for her strength and beauty. Those days were long since gone, slowly being consumed in the fog of her memory as loneliness became all she could remember.
Atop her uncomfortable throne, she spent empty moments ruling over a world that no longer wanted to be ruled. Disease and famine plagued the land, but she was unable to lift a finger to prevent it without hundreds of voices rising to remind her how all of it was her fault, how it all began with her. The voices were not wrong per se, and they also were not necessarily right. It had been complex, the path from prosperity to ruin and the route toward madness which she had taken. Now she preferred not thinking about it, let alone discussing it with drabble who could not look past hatred to seek reason, but they refused to let it go. She had been trying to save them when it all began, a fact nobody knew aside from friends long gone, and for a time she succeeded. She kept the darkness at bay, peace at hand, and made people happier using the power bestowed upon her. It really hadn’t been her fault at all if you thought about it.
In the end, everything which occurred back then was probably better off left behind her. She didn’t really need it anymore, the power, respect, and adoration of strangers. Friends would be nice. She had friends in her past life, good friends who she had laughed with, cried with, ate with, and slept with. Some of those pleasures were unbecoming of a Vestal in the eyes of her subjects. A Vestal was not meant to take a lover or consume anything which did not grow from the bounty of the land. They were silly and pointless restrictions, but ones the order had followed for hundreds of years.
Standing from her throne, its shining black surface reflecting flickers of torchlight which illuminated the room, she took careful steps over to a glass podium a few yards away. Inside that glass casing rested both her doom and salvation; the thing which saved her life, and the thing which destroyed it. An orb, polished and rounded, sat atop a fluffy pillow of plush feathers and taunted her endlessly. The Stone of Malkori had been passed down from Vestal to Vestal over centuries of delicate peace. Capable of tapping into an otherworldly and vicious source of power, the Stone was powerful enough that if she, or any other Vestal before her, had wanted to do so, they could have leveled half of the continent as simply as one might light the candles of their bedchamber. It was a weapon capable of unrivaled destruction or magnificent healing. Over five thousand years, only thrice had it been used and always in defense of the continent and her people. Genevieve had broken that pattern by unleashing the Stone’s full potential in the heart of her dominion, desolating the countryside and killing hundreds of thousands. That was the moment where she lost the faith of her people, the moment where she became the villain, and there was no turning back.
With a dark smile stretching her lips, she reached a steady hand forward and made to remove the glass casing. It would be so simple, so easy. Spells once protected the Stone of Malkori from potential thieves or those who sought to misuse it, but those spells were gone. She had done away with them after the accident, for she still knew it WAS an accident, and the Stone stayed defenseless upon its small pillow. Fingers brushing against cold glass, the temptation was greater than ever before. Every day, sitting up on her stupid, lonely throne, she considered taking the Stone’s power into herself again. This time, she would utilize those dark and mysterious forces to rectify her wrongdoings. She would rebuild the capital, revive the buried, heal the sick, and return prosperity to her home. That was what pushed her toward abusing the treasured heirloom of her order again, the artifact no other Vestal would dare to call theirs. Genevieve thought of it as hers. Feeling the deaths of all those people through it, knowing their final hopes and fears, the way it felt as shadow tore straight into their soft, fragile bodies and ripped out the other side, was enough, in her opinion, to say the Stone belonged to her. No one had told her the experience of using it was going to be like that; personal and painful. Some days, she truly believed it had broken her mind.
“I cannot,” she said, retracting her hand and wrapping the cloak she wore tighter. Even if her intentions were pure, noble, and heroic, the Stone could not be trusted. After all, she had never meant to hurt anyone, but a hundred thousand graves showed the proof of what occurred. That day, over a decade ago now, the goal had been to seal away the darkness underneath the capital. Contrary to popular belief, she really was not a bad person! No, not at all in the beginning. Vile and malignant beasts dwelt beneath the streets of her home for longer than anyone knew, staying contained in a void of evil which seeped poison and sickness up into the world of men. The previous Vestals had maintained enchantments that separated the void from touching the mortal world, but those enchantments were becoming less effective every day. Closing that void, and ridding her country of evil, had been the primary desire behind Genevieve’s use of the Stone, yet somehow, someway, something went terribly wrong, and the void opened further in an explosion of dark energy. That energy was what massacred everyone around her and leveled the city. In addition, the resulting taint brought plague and disease to the world unlike anything before. And, of course, it was all her fault.
Barefoot steps padded softly across the room until coming to a rest at a large window. A gentle breeze blew her hair as she gazed outside, longing for the companionship of another person like she once enjoyed. The man she cared about most was dead too, buried right alongside the faceless thousands. She missed him each night and each morning, but he was not coming back. “Just like the city is never coming back,” she said, eyes scanning the desolation far below. What had been the capital was a sprawling wasteland of collapsed buildings and ruined residences, stretching a few miles in all directions. Her tower, the menacing structure which she called home ever since the people turned against her, was at the center of it all. No matter where she walked to, every view from the tower was a reminder of what she did and what she had become. That reminder clawed at her heart and hurt her blackened soul every time.
Leaving the window, Genevieve drifted back in the direction of her throne. From hero, ruler, and role model, she had become a villain, monster, and tyrant. Indeed, she was still a ruler, even if the people did not like to acknowledge her reign. There were those out there, beyond the capital’s ruins, who still viewed her as their savior, silly as that probably was. In her mind, she was many things, but a savior was not one of them. Possibly, above anything else, she thought that pariah fit her best as a title in these grim and grimy halls, secluded from the masses who continued to bear the pain and anger brought about because of her betrayals. As she took her place atop the uncomfortable throne, memories of the past weighed heavy on her breaking mind, and loneliness permeated the halls of the dreary, depressing abode.