Stars
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The stars have started to come out. I can see them through the cracks in the ceiling. Used to be that on nights like this, I'd be up in the eastern tower, watching them. I had one of those big brass telescopes that the academy uses, with the knobs on the right side and the crooked stand. Grandfather had imported it from Changzhou for my eleventh birthday. Only the heavens know how he was able to get a trader to a land that far off.

That telescope was something else. I was able to see the image of all the stars on the horizon. There were big stars, little stars, flashy stars, and the distant objects that grandfather told me were the moons and planets. Many nights would end with me fast asleep in front of it, a celestial book in my lap and a pudgy young face resting against the viewing piece. Grandfather said that these weren't really the stars, just the images. The memories of how they looked long past. It was an honor, he said, to be able to gaze upon such a storied history.

I remember one night, Grandfather took me out to the courtyard to watch the stars fall. It was beautiful. They danced and twirled through the sky, a seemingly endless supply of brilliance and color. They flashed and pulsed with light, as if they had been waiting for me to put on a show. Although I begged him for months and months, we never went out there again. Even if it was only one trip, the image of the stars frolicking swiftly throughout the cosmos has stayed ingrained in my mind.

When I became head of the castle, there was no more nonsense like that. I was a grown up, and there was to be no funny business on my watch. I made sure my own son was given the greatest education in the land, and given tutelage in the widest berth of material. But for the study of the cosmos, we learned with each other. He and I would crowd around that dusty old telescope, keeping close watch on the heavens and their constellations. I miss him now, more than ever.

When he was lost to the family, the entire nation seemed to grieve. All my defenders were sent to search, and when he was found broken and still at the border, there were no words that could describe my grief. I was despairing, and in this state I demanded retribution. The defenders took up my banner, and we attacked those we believed to have wronged us. We ravaged them with our hate, destroying every man, woman, and child. We felt justice had been done.

But the heavens did not smile as we smote our enemy. When they saw us driving them from their lands, and slaughtering them in greater number than had ever been seen, it was too much to bear. The heavens descended on us. First in small number, then greater. So many stars that I had once seen flittering about the vast frontiers came down to us, breaking everything we held. The flashing of light could be seen for many miles when they fell, and we found ourselves suffering a worse fate than our tormentors.

I do not know why I have been spared. Perhaps to serve as a living legacy to the folly of my kingdom, or perhaps to bear witness to the end of a dynasty. When the time comes, I will go to the tower one last time, and look over the vast emptiness of the land I once ruled. The stars look beautiful tonight.

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