The Royal Stamp

Ezra Azra

© Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra
Image by Bertsz from Pixabay
Image by Bertsz from Pixabay 

Rahjiz and Lionel were walking hastily along the dark hallways in the basement floor of a University building. The red lights of the exit signs, and the green fluorescent faces of the wall clocks were the only lights. The violent electric storm outside had shorted out the rest of the power.

They had been studying in the Jackman Centre of the University's Leddy library, when an intercom announcement ordered everyone in the Library to vacate the building because of approaching violent weather.

Every few seconds all the lights in the corridors through which Rahjiz and Lionel were hurrying, go out. The couple did not break step during such spasms of total blackout. She was exasperated; he was unfazed.

The bursts of thunder outside, although barely heard this deep down in the building, could be timed by the flickering of the lights of the clocks and the exit signs at every crash and rumble.

Particularly frustrating was the thunder causing the doors to jam closed a few seconds. Why? The mechanical doors were not electrical.

Rahjiz felt especially mocked by the different and wrong times on the clocks. It did not help that she recalled the first-time ever she turned up late for classes because nobody had bothered to let the students know that the University had never thought it important to have the clocks checked for accuracy, nor to synchronize their times.

Without breaking stride, Rahjiz unbuttoned her heavy short coat because she was beginning to feel a little too warm. Her reason changed as the second button was undone. She found herself pulling her long, thick, waist-length braid of hair over her shoulder and tucking it into her coat in the front. She buttoned the coat.

She is not comfortable with her hair tucked in like this, at the best of times. Right now she feels more uncomfortable with it because it is wet from the rain they were caught in as they left the library building and ran for the doors of this building. And, too, the water made the hair bulkier, and this made fastening the button of her coat irritatingly difficult.

"Lionel, have you noticed there has never been anybody else in that Jackman Centre Leddy Library when we've been there?" "All the better for us to get up to mischief, huh?" "Oh, shut up." They walked on in silence through the sounds of weather violence

You said this would be an easier way, Lionel.” “It is indoors, is it not?” “There are no lights, you idiot." “So, I forgot. Abuse me.” They walk a few steps in silence. “Hey, look at the bright side.” “Shut up!”

Every time the lights go out, the University saves on its light bill, and so tuition does not have to go up.” “Oh yeah? Like the president of this outhouse needs a reason to raise tuition. But, then, how would you know that, being a foreigner?”

Hey, we foreigners already pay twice as much as you guys.” He is aware both of them are foreigners. She less than he by a few years. But sensing her intolerant mood, and remembering how often she has bristled at being reminded she is a foreigner, too, he senses it is safer in this restricted space to pretend only he is the foreigner at the moment.

My parents are going to kill me!” In her exasperation, she was tempted to return the prize she had won from him in a card game when they were on a study break in the Leddy Library Jackman Centre. Her stake was the cheap ring she wore on a finger. His was a small flat black stone, as worthless as her ring, he assured her, but a toy he had carried with him from the time he had left his country to enroll at this University. He said its only attraction to him was its inexplicable natural property to cling to living flesh. "Like a blood-sucking leech", she had joked. She had won the game, and let him place the stone on her forehead. He had placed it, and remarked that in some Religions such a stone between the eyes identified her as a Royal bride.

Softly, pantingly in a weak attempt to mollify the best friend he had on campus for the longest time, “Rahjiz, the national annual lottery is at one-hundred million dollars. Tax free.” Before she could answer, they collided into a door, jammed shut by thunder.
They pause, mumbling swear words, for the door to unjam. “Should we be near a corner by now? How long is this stupid hallway?” “How would I know? You will know before me.” She was taller than he, and although he was walking as fast as he could, she was always a step or two in front of him.

If you trip in this dark, I am not stopping.” “And if you trip?” “Just hope I do not. For your sake, just hope.” “Yish! I have never heard you this hostile, Rahjiz.” “I have never let you talk me into anything this stupid before, Lionel Milan!”

Lionel Milan? Now he knows she is angry at him. When she uses his surname, she is really angry at him.

Okay! Okay! I will make it up to you.”

That is the last time I rely on you to keep track of the time. If they had not closed earlier than usual, we would still be in there.” “Come on, Rahjiz, it is not my fault that clock stopped at ten-fifteen.” “You idiot! That clock has been stuck at ten-fifteen for months.” “Hah! So, you knew. How, then, can it be only my fault?” “It was your assignment we were working on. I was helping you. You should have kept track of the time. You said you would, Lionel.”

What’s the big deal? It is only twelve-thirty. You’re a big girl. You sound even bigger in those clomping boots. We have worked later than this before.” “In the company of others. And not since all the rapes on this campus.” “Rumours of rapes. Just rumours. Not one has been confirmed.”

You can afford to wait for confirmation. You are a man, I think. All they will do to you is beat you silly.” “So, I will put up a terrific fight. Keep them busy. You will have plenty of time to escape with your virginity intact, Rahjiz.” “Keep that up! Just keep that up! You are getting damned close to being stomped on!” “That is okay. Abuse me. I will still fight them off for you.”

Yeah. Right. Like you fought off those hookers?” “I knew it! The moment I said that, I knew you were going to bring that up. They were---.” “Women! Two women, Lionel Milan!”

Thugs! Woman thugs!” “They ripped your coat right off you and you did nothing.” “A smelly coat. I did not like that coat. You did not like that coat, Rahjiz. The good gods sent those she-devils to free me and you of that coat.”

Oh, shut up! That is beside the point. It was your coat. They grabbed you. They tore it off. You ran. The other way! Lionel Milan!” “That is it! I am taking your advice. I am shutting up. You are just being impossible.”

They came to a turn in the hallway. She slowed down. He bumped into her. His spectacles fell from his face. “Do not move. My spectacles.” He went down to his hands and knees and felt about the floor.

Rahjiz ignored him, because she sensed something else. She knew it could not be something she heard. The sounds of their footsteps and of the distant storm made it unlikely. But she sensed something was wrong.

Someone is coming.” She turned the corner, and pushed the crash bars of a glass double-door. She saw the beams of a light moving toward them up ahead.

Oh, good! Someone with a flashlight! Two flashlights; even better.

Hello!” There was no answer. Why did they not answer? Rahjiz quickly turned back through the doors, almost tripping over Lionel, still on all-fours. “Lionel, let us get out of here.” “My spectacles.” She tripped over him.

For the first time in her twenty years, all those classes in yoga, karate and ballet, came to her aid.

She turned the fall into a roll, and was up in a second. The flashlight beams found Lionel and stayed on him only a fraction of a second before one of the beams jerked up, looking for her.

There were four of them. Two attacked Lionel. The other two went running at Rahjiz.

A kick cracked into Lionel's ribs. His screams, already barely audible above the distant weather and the deafening clash of noises generated in this hallway itself, were aborted by more violent kicks at his throat and head.

Rahjiz ran in the opposite direction.
The flashlight beams stayed on her, but some of the refracted light actually helped her find her way for a few seconds. Perhaps her pursuer realized this, because the beam suddenly shut off.

In the seconds it took her sight to adjust again, the wall of darkness was in effect so palpable that she stumbled in her reflexive reaction to protect herself from slamming into it. Her shoulder crashed cruelly into the corridor’s stone wall. Because of her heavy coat, only her speed suffered from the jolt. No damage to her body.

However, impact conspires with momentum and she is thrown into a curve that drives her face towards brick. Instinct, some of it honed from years of martial arts education and training, thrust her arms up in front of her face. She was thrown off-balance. Exploding repeatedly in her mind is the thought that she must not fall. She had insufficient control to respond to the screams inside her to save her face. Instead, she turned the movement of her arms into flat palms slapping angrily into the wall to propel her into a spin that ended with her back against the wall, immediately under one of the inaccurate, mocking, spitefully- stupid clocks.

She sensed, more than heard, the twill weave of her coat ripping against the unfinished masonry as her momentum wildly tried to slide her along the unyielding hardness. Thick tweed successfully fought on her side against the slide.

Perhaps it was just her imagination, but she did not care to question the accuracy of the feint fluorescence that revealed a shape-shifting mass of black malevolence bearing down on her with very malicious intent.

It could be that she was simply falling towards the opposite wall, but long-schooled intuition shouts at her to take no chances.

It was as if a sudden inner flash of lightning cleared the darkness away from around her. She became so sharply aware of her immediate movements, she feels she is moving in slow motion and in complete control.

She rammed her boot brutally into the monstrous mass which was now almost upon her.

The wall behind her clawing at her back provided her the fulcrum she needed to turn, allowing her to gear her kick into the beginning of a twist. Her boot ploughed into something. She faintly hears something breaking.

She was resigned that it was the bones of her foot. Indeed, had she not been wearing high boots, the wrenching force of her kick would have ripped her foot off at the ankle. Her hip was not as shielded. Her groan of pain as hip sinews torque to the brink of shearing, caught her by surprise.

The kick was strong enough to stop the malignant thing coming at her. The twisting boot making deep impact impelled the thing’s momentum into a corkscrew pattern. A flashlight clattered to the floor, and its beam died a sudden shutting off. She could not make out any light coming from the other flashlight.

The flickering from the wrong-time clocks were not enough to guide a second monster through the suddenly erratic motions of its partner in front, and they collided.

Both crashed to the floor in a flailing chaotic grunting, coughing mess.

In the darkness made confusing by unstable reds and greens, Rahjiz was unaware of the effect of her kick. She half-wished she had not hurt the thing she had just booted so violently. She immediately slapped herself mentally for such a dumb compassionate half-thought.

This beginning inner conflict causes her to lose control of her drive. She miscalculated and threw herself into a run before she came out of her spin. She took lessons about why this is an unsafe maneuver to attempt, even when on a gym mat!

She realized her mistake too late to help herself. She stumbled and banged hard up against the opposite wall. This saved her!

The two savage things, completely out of control in their collision, rolled on the floor passed her. They would have crashed into her had she been running where she had intended. She began to panic.

There were evil things on both sides of her. Her palms, knees, ankles and hips were at war with her unbending will. They shrieked at her for rest. What happened in the next few seconds would forever be a blur to her.

Ignoring the hysterical screams in her head about how hopeless the situation was for her, she ripped herself off the wall and ran towards the tumbling mass on the floor. Acting on only fitful impressions to estimate her footing, she dodged, half tripped on and jumped over the violently changing shape.

For a moment she gained a little confidence on hearing what she thought were muffled groans of pain from the ugly shape. She ran down the hallway.

The exit lights? What happened to them? Another blasted power outage! Too late! She senses the wall in front of her at the corridor’s turn. She barely had enough presence of mind to turn her head before the side of her face smashed into brick. It was the side over which she had slung her hair to tuck it into her coat. Only the cushion of hair, made thicker for being wet, saved her face and head from crippling injury. She was determined the collision would not stop her.

Using her momentum and the wall into which she crashed, she twisted into a run, down the other hallway. A sharp pain in her lower ribs on one side of her chest slowed her down. She slapped a hand against the pain, pressed hard, and kept running as fast as the pain allowed her.

She did not remember how she exited the building. She was abruptly made aware she was outside by the thunder trying to tear out her eardrums, the lightning blinding her, and the hard rain stinging like gravel against her face.

She stumbled in the direction she thought would take her home, a few blocks away.

It was raining in unbroken columns that landed with crashing cacophony wherever there were hard surfaces on the ground. So violent was the thundering bursts of water on the ground where there was no grass, that bits of stone and other debris bounced up to form a bruising churn that reached knee high at times.

She stumbled on down a commercial street. She recognized it. Led to her front door. She felt a little safer, and slowed down. She was wet down to her skin. She guessed that a lot of it was perspiration. The coldness eased the pains in her foot, hips, chest, face and palms.

The lower areas of most of the windows of the businesses she passed were cracked by the upward exploding gravel. The wind was slashing vigorously in all directions. The thunder had died down, but sheet lightning flashes were still occurring at rapid intervals, providing the only street lighting. This part of the city was in complete darkness except for the lightning.

She feared she had gone deaf because she could not hear the thunder that was supposed to follow lightning. Here and there the lightning was reflected in the windows.

Along with the few other unfortunate pedestrians fighting their way through the gale and rain, she did not pause even when the moments of sudden light from the black skies blinded and disorientated her for a few seconds at a time.

She found herself at the front street door of the apartment building. She turned around to push open the unlocked outer door with her back. When inside, she reached into a pocket for her keys. Her palm stung as it touched metal. She dropped the keys back, and looked at her palms.

Both were covered in bruises that were slowly oozing blood. As if signaled by the palms, the side of her face tingled sharply. She felt faint, but the awareness of her parents seeing her in this condition frightened enough strength into her. She suffered the pain and took her keys out. She opened the inner door.

It took her painfully forever, but eventually she climbed the twenty-nine steps to the third floor.

Her fumbling in trying to insert the key into the lock of her apartment door took another excruciating forever for her to unlock the door.

When she was eventually inside, and had locked the front door, she had to pause against the wall for some time to give herself time to convince herself she was safely inside her home.

She hurried straight into the bathroom.

After what seemed hours, she was standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror. Amazingly, Lionel's flat black stone was still between her eyes. She removed it, and placed it on the counter. She dried herself in a bathsheet. She unceremoniously threw all her clothes and her boots into a heap into the bathtub. She knew she could not leave them there. Her Mom would throw a fit.

Her Mom? They have not heard her yet? She has had the taps running for minutes. She closed off the water and listened. Nothing. Her knees weakened with apprehension. She quickly fastened the bathsheet around her, and slowly opened the door. No lights anywhere else in the apartment. This did not feel right.

One of her parents, most likely her Mom, would have been up and at her by now. She moved slowly to the kitchen, and felt along the wall for the light switch. With the light on, she looked around. Her parents’ bedroom door was wide open. They never slept with that door open.

She did not want to go and look. She needed all her strength to control herself from breaking down into the sobs fighting to sabotage her clear thinking. She stood motionless, leaning against the wall, trying mightily to get some order into her jumbled thoughts, and emotions. She had to sit.

She reached a chair at the kitchen table, and slowly let herself into it. She was facing the fridge. She saw the note written in bold black magic marker, and held in place by a fridge magnet.

Dinner in the oven. Do not wait up. Mom.”

She remembered. They had told her they would not be home when she returned from her classes. That was why she had dared to stay out so late to help Lionel in the library.

She surrendered completely to an explosion of sobs and tears.

It took three days of staying at home for all her injuries to heal enough for her to feel confident enough to want to go to classes and to the Leddy library. While her injuries were healing, her mind was in restless. The news on television and radio constantly reported violence and deaths during campus riots. There had been no news about Lionel Milan.

The fifth day was cloudy and wind, but the City had been without rain for two days. Most of the City was back to normal. University classes had resumed.

Rahjiz reluctantly decided to return to the Leddy Library Jackman Centre, if only to return his stone. Lionel would go to the Jackman Centre to meet with her. She had to take the opportunity to speak to him. His remark of her appearing to be a Royal bride had unnerved her a little. She had to let him know she had no feelings of romance for him. She loved him to no end; as a friend, only.

In the earl afternoon on the fifth day, she was in the Jackman Centre, sitting at the corner of a table where she and Lionel usually sat. The chair he sat in was empty. She had his stone in her coat pocket. She was trying to concentrate on writing an overdue class assignment. She noticed there were, unusually, a few other persons about in the Centre. All female, as far as her cursory glances discovered; and all were wearing colourful high boots.

A young woman came up to her. "May I?" Rahjiz was taken aback, but did not look up as she continued writing, and said "Of course." The woman sat in Lionel's chair.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, but, please, may I ask a question?" Rahjiz stopped writing and look at the woman.

She saw a small flat stone on the forehead between the eyes of the woman. A cold shiver raced in all directions away from her heart. Her brain seemed on the brink of disaster. Inexplicably, her whole being went to red-alert.

The woman showed no sign she noticed the shock that was nearly paralyzing Rahjiz. Almightily successful, Rahjiz calmy answered, "Yes. Of course." "I have asked many people, and none of them could help me. A few suggested I come here. I am looking for Lionel Milan."

Rahjiz would forever be amazed at how completely and spontaneously and smoothly she was dishonest in her reply.

"Me, too. Five days ago before the storm, a group of us were here studying. We had to leave suddenly when it was announced over the library intercom that the library would be closing immediately because a storm was about to explode on the City. We grabbed our stuff and took off. I have not seen any of them, including Lionel, since then. In the days that followed, I found this among my books." She took the stone out of her pocket and placed it on the table in from of the woman. "I see now it must belong to Lionel."

The woman looked at the stone, steadily. She spoke softly. "He spoke about the stone?" "Not to me. When I found it in my papers at home, it was the first time I had seen it." The woman picked up the stone, and lifted it between her thumb and index finger. She positioned it next to the stone between her eyes on her forehead for Rahjiz to see. Rahjiz spoke in sincere amazement, "A perfect match."

"Yes. Lionel and I are Royalty in a kingdom in the Urals. In our kingdom, stones like these are rare. At present, only three in existence. In Ancient tradition, Royal couples exchange these stones in promise of betrothal. We wear them until the wedding. The man leaves for five years to travel the world to learn about other Nations. At the end of five years, he returns to be married."

She paused for long seconds. Rahjiz, in deep concern and fear, kept silent. The woman, continued, slowly and introspectively. Some of the booted women stepped closer, to listen.

"Lionel Milan is not his name. He is a Royal prince. Lionel and Milan are names of violent criminals in our kingdom who were executed over a hundred years ago. When I heard he had adopted that name in this country, I was troubled and angry."

One of the booted women held out her palm; the princess handed her Lionel's stone. The woman stepped away from the table and bent down to place the stone on the floor. The princess got out of the chair. She walked to the stone on the floor and stamped on it, and ground it to dust. Not looking at Rahjiz, she spoke to her, "Run far from this building. It is about to sink forever, out of sight." She strode out of that doomed Jackman Centre Leddy Library.

All the booted young woman, each in turn, stamped on the remains of the stone before they followed their Royal princess out.

For a long time, Rahjiz sat alone. She was so fearful of moving, she was in danger of going down with the building in the lightning and thunder and rain she heard approaching.

Had she mustered enough presence of mind to look down where the stone had been, she would not have been able to discern it from nondescript ordinary dust. 

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