Chapter Two: King of the Ashes
The Melcanians had won, Valtroy laid in ruins, but that was not a surprise to anybody. The fighting that had all but consumed the city was finally over. The area outside of Valtroy was as quiet as a tomb, and it had essentially become as such. Everywhere on the ground were the littered corpses of both Melcanian and Kgnaskan alike, their flesh now a food source for the flies and carrion birds now swarming the area. The smell was unbearable, and workers toiled endlessly to gather the dead before rot and disease could set in.
None of this seemed to bother Emperor Alric, who appeared more annoyed by the Summer’s heat than he was by the horrors of war. He was a young man, no older than 30, with long curled hair, black as night like the true Melcanian he was, his pearled skin seeming practically translucent in the bright sunlight. Being short of stature, and slender to the point of frailty, the emperor would have almost appeared sickly, if it had not been for his eyes… those eyes. Eyes cold and sharp as ice, and blue as the lightning crystals themselves. They betrayed an intelligence and maturity far above his years, and one look from them was enough to unsettle most men, for he was not one to be disrespected or trifled with.
Alric had never been this far south before, his father having led the previous Kgnaskan invasion, and it was clear that he did not care for the climate. He was not dressed for the sands, layered in royal Melcanian garments, Black and gold, the colors of the empire. Regardless of his obvious discomfort, Alric betrayed no signs of weakness, refusing to even remove his cloak, as if in defiance to the sun.
The Emperor walked rather casually through the field of corpses and burned out wreckage, as one would going through a garden, gently holding a handkerchief to his nose to ward off the awful stench. With him was a small collection of guards and Kliin, the general he had put in charge of the invasion.
“General Kliin, tell me something.” Said Alric, almost with a yawn. “If we’ve won, and the city is mine… Then why am I not able to enter MY castle?”. Although it was said in the way of a bored child there was a hint of impatient frustration in his tone. Kliin paid no mind to the young Emperor’s lack of royal pose, though the old man himself was more than a little stiff, formal to the point of redundancy.
“My Emperor, the coward king of this nation blew the bridges to the keep, isolating it from our ground forces. As I’m sure you’re grace is well aware, much of the city is built up on the cliff, with the castle sitting on a plateau in the city’s center. Without those bridges the only way we can approach the keep is from the air and it’s proving difficult, the castle was not designed for landing airships.” Kliin sighed, “If you would simply allow me to blow out the base of the plateau…” Alric held up his hand.
“No Kliin, as much as I respect your tactics and your effectiveness at war, I do not want the castle destroyed. Knocking over that plateau would bury the Lower District. No, I want this king alive at my feet, him, and his whore wife.” He spat, clenching his handkerchief in his fist. “Continue the assault on the keep, pry it open, I don’t care how many men you have to use, get it done.”
“My Emperor.” Said Kliin, bowing respectively before heading back to the city. Alric looked after him a moment, then turned his gaze to the scene of death all around him. He smirked momentarily, before frowning again. He wiped his brow with his handkerchief.
“Gods it’s hot. One would wonder how these dogs stand this heat.”
It took some doing, but after hours of persistent effort, and several soldiers falling to their deaths, the Melcanians had effectively set up a temporary bridge across the gap between the upper district and the castle’s gateway. All they had to do now was knock.
“Put your backs into it men! and HEAVE!”, cried Captain Ekhart. The foot soldiers hefted the heavy beam between them and, with the force of the empire, struck the gate with a thunderous bwoom, shaking the old doors, loosening the hinges. “AGAIN!”. The men brought the beam back and forced it into the door, roaring with effort. “AGAIN! BRING IT DOWN!!”, screamed Ekhart. The men swung the beam once more, heaving it into the door like the fist of a god. Wood splintered, hinges gave way, and the old door fell open.
Before the soldiers could even drop the beam, they were set upon by gunfire, several of them cut down before the rest could find cover. All along the pillars and walls were Kgnaskan soldiers, mud colored uniforms blending into the bricks behind them. This was the last remaining force left to defend the King, there would be no one else.
The Kgnaskans fired into the Melcanians coming through the doorway defiantly, rifles finding not a moment’s rest as they shot round after round, filling the air with the fog of war. It was a valiant effort, but ultimately futile. The Melcanians poured through the doorway, hundreds of them, quickly overwhelming the resistance. They unleashed a hell of gunfire, painting everything red, the Kgnaskans’ sundered, riddled corpses trampled over by the oppressive Melcanian war machine.
The Melcanians stormed the castle, eliminating resistance wherever they found it, their blackened armor likening them to a horde of demons as they went room to room, shooting, burning, raping, and pillaging. It was as a scene from Dramthek’s domain, for the fallen god would smile upon such wanton death and bloodshed.
Emperor Alric strolled through the battered hall, paying no heed to the scene of death all around him. He stepped over the corpses, admiring the stonework of the castle, the banners of a fallen nation. He ran his fingers over the wall, much too relaxed to be walking through the fog of war, the blood soaked floors, the scream echoed halls.
Alric made his way through the castle, knowing exactly where he was going even without having been here before, for a well built castle revealed all its secrets, if one knew where to look. He placed his hands on a set of ornate double doors at the end of one of the hallways.
“Ah, here we are…” Alric said satisfactorily. He pushed the sturdy doors inward flippantly, revealing the great hall, the throne room of a nation on fire. He walked through the room slowly, observing the beauty in the architecture and design.
Despite the harrows of war ravaging other parts of the castle this room had remained untouched. Beautiful rich brown marble columns stretched to a double ceiling, domed in the center with crystal that let sunlight pour onto a breathtaking muraled floor depicting the sun held in the hands of the great god Solan. The walls were painted with scenes of the desert sands, and hung heavy with the brown and silver banners of Kgnaska. At the end of the spacious room sat the king’s throne, seated high upon a raised platform, in front of a wall with three large banners depicting the cycles of the sun. The throne was simple in outward design, almost small for a king’s seat. It was composed of dark stained wood, and expertly carved with-
“FOR THE KING!!”, screamed a Kgnaskan soldier, running out from behind a column, rifle raised. Alric sighed, more annoyed than anything. The soldier took half a step before Alric reached into his cloak, pulled out an ornate gold inlaid pistol, and shot the man dead.
“Rude.” Alric put the spent pistol back into his cloak, continuing his walk. Confident there would not be any more interruptions, he returned his attention to the throne. The throne was simple in outward design, almost small for a king’s seat. It was composed of dark stained wood, and expertly carved with images depicting the history of the Kgnaskan kingdom, the detail was astounding. Alric ran his fingers over the carvings depicting the end of the First Melcanian Kgnaskan War, the signing of the accords, and grinned, silently amused. His fingers paused over the wedding of King Gregory and Queen Rosaleen and his smile faded. “Where are you?” Alric mused. He turned away from the throne, seeing all he cared to, and walked back out of the hall.
King Gregory and Queen Rosaleen were barricaded inside the castle sanctuary, safeguarded by a handful of soldiers sworn to die for their king. They were trapped, a place of worship and quiet contemplation now a living grave for the damned. All around the room, the statues of the gods looked down upon them with varying mixtures of disdain and pity. Solan, God of Light and father of all, looking disapprovingly at them. Hileen, Mother of Nature and lover of children, watching with sad eyes. Galryn, Lord of the Sea and deliverer of justice, silently judging. Dramthek, the Fallen God, off in the corner with a pleased smile. A dozen other faces, a dozen other judgments.
Gregory held his queen close. He knew not what fate awaited them, but he hoped that they would spare her, by Hileen’s will, he hoped they had that much mercy.
“Gregory, I fear what will happen.” Spoke Rosaleen in hushed tones, as if speaking would reveal them. She turned and looked up at him. “By the gods, why has this fate befallen us? Have we not prayed in their names? Do we not keep a fire lit on their altars? And now this doom does befall our kingdom, our people, the children, Hileen weeps, as do I.” Tears fell down her cheeks and she turned away to wipe them before looking back. Gregory shook his head.
“We know not the will of the gods. Perhaps we have been too proud, perhaps we did forget their names when remembering truly mattered, I know not.” His eyes looked up at the stern face of Solan, the stone seeming alive in the light of the fire that even now still burned on the statue’s altar. “I just pray that we are shown mercy, for if we sin, we do so ignorantly.” His eyes wandered to the statue of Dramthek, the deceiver, unsettled by the grinning god’s almost mocking smile. Dramthek’s altar was the only one in the room that had no fire to warm it, the stone as clean as the day it was placed, leaving that corner of the room appropriately dark for the lost god. Rosaleen took his head in her hands, turning him to look at her.
“And what of our son? What sins did he commit to have this misfortune come upon him? Gods Gregory, we sent him away alone, and during the Month of Storms no less.” She looked at the statue of Galryn with anxious eyes, and silently prayed he would protect her son on the water.
“We could not have accompanied him, Alric would follow us to Dramthek’s Domain, it is his obsession, but he will not search for a boy that he does not know about.” Said Gregory, trying to reassure himself more than anything. “And he’s not alone, he is with Dalton, and I trust that man as I trust myself. He will protect him.” Gregory stroked her hair comfortingly. Rosaleen sighed, finding little relief in the situation.
“For his sake, I pray you are right.” She said. Gregory’s eyes wandered to the eyes of Solan again, cold stone and yet, seemingly aware, knowing.
“My only hope is that the gods show him mercy, that they do not make our sins his.” His voice was almost a whisper, his eyes not leaving the statue
“I don’t care about gods and sins right now, I don’t want to lose him, I don’t want to lose you, I shouldn’t have to lose anybody, gods be damned.” She kissed him, catching him off guard, but then he returned the gesture, taking her head in his hands, kissing her gently, passionately, in a way only true love knows. Gregory pulled back, looking into her eyes.
“Whatever happens, whatever fate the gods deem just, I love you, you are my queen, now, forever and always. If it so be that I am to die, I do so with with clear conscience, and shall wait for you in the Kingdom of Sun.” She put her head on his chest, her hands gripping his royal garments as if letting go would cause him to vanish.
“No, no, no, no no no. You’re not going to die.” She shuddered as she choked out the words. “I won’t let you, I have not given permission, I forbid it. I will drag you back from Solan’s court myself if I have to.” Rosaleen cried softly against his chest. Gregory put his arms around her again, gently rocking back and forth in a soothing gesture.
“Let us hope it doesn’t have to come to that.”
Emperor Alric walked through the destroyed, corpse littered halls, undeterred by the threat of enemy ambush, confident the Royal Melcanian Army had stepped on whatever resistance had been here. He walked more determinedly than before, no longer admiring the architecture, simply following the sounds of chaos.
Alric had lost patience, he wanted the king, he wanted the queen, he wanted them NOW. There were only so many places they could be in this castle, they could not have escaped, not with the structure surrounded, he was sure of it. Alric rounded the corner to see Captain Ekhart and a collection of soldiers standing outside of a large set of double doors, apparently incapable of opening them.
“What do you mean they won’t open?” Ekhart looked at the soldier incredulously. “Break them down!” He gestured wildly at the doors. The soldier nodded and turned back to the doors, proceeding to knock them down with the help of another soldier. Ekhart sighed, “Recruits these days.”, he muttered under his breath.
“Having difficulty?” Alric raised an eyebrow. Ekhart quickly bowed, not having seen the emperor.
“My Emperor! Apologies your majesty, I had not noticed your arrival.” Alric waved his hand dismissively, his face less than amused.
“Are they in there?” Alric indicated the door. Ekhart looked at the door, the two soldiers still trying to break in.
“Eh, in all likelihood, yes, we’ve searched most of the other areas of the castle.” Ekhart scratched the back of his head. “Besides, I believe this is the sanctuary if I’m not mistaken. Heh, maybe they wanted to appeal to the gods... Or perhaps dip the wick one last time.” He added, chuckling. Alric did not laugh. He raised an eyebrow at the captain and Ekhart remembered who he was talking to. “Eh, my apologies, your grace, I’m not used to addressing royalty, especially someone of your standing.”
Alric did not say anything, eyeing the captain with those cold eyes that cut like steel. Ekhart shifted uncomfortably in his boots. The men hit the door once more and it crashed inward. Ekhart smiled and began walking toward the doorway, thankful for an excuse to get out of the awkward moment.
“There you go men, nicely done, now search the ro-” Ekhart’s head was unable to finish its sentence, because it was not there anymore, the gunshot that took it still echoing in the confined space. Several more gunshots filled the air, and several more Melcanians fell. The remaining soldiers fired back, and after a quick exchange, confirmed there were no more hostiles. Alric took a moment to look down at the now lifeless form of Captain Ekhart, satisfied with the gods’ swift lesson in royal respect, and then proceeded into the room.
All around, the eyes of the gods were upon him, judging him with hard eyes. He was not concerned by this. What he did care about was the man and woman at the end of the room, held on their knees by Melcanian soldiers. The King and Queen. Alric looked upon them with what only could be described as disgust. He looked at the king, and then the queen. Alric walked over to her, brushing the side of her face with his hand as he looked down at her without mercy.
“Hello… Rosaleen…” He said, his words filled with anything but love. Rosaleen looked up at him with frightened eyes.
“Brother…” She whispered. Alric removed his hand from her face suddenly, as if the word had bit him. For a moment he simply stood over them, studying the pair with harsh eyes. Gregory, the king of a nation of sand dogs, and Rosaleen, the sister that had fled the empire to bring peace to the south. She looked hauntingly similar to Alric, same pearl skin, though hers was less sickly, same sapphire eyes, yet hers were warmer, kinder, less cutting. Rosaleen was notably older than Alric, yet still much younger than Gregory, appearing more like a mother than a sister to the young emperor.
Aside from appearance, Alric and Rosaleen could not have been more different. The man standing before them was angry, prideful, frighteningly ethnocentric. Whereas the woman was gentle, kind, a lover of all races and all people. Alric stayed silent, as if he could not decide how to properly express his revulsion. Rosaleen reached out to him, trying to take hold of his hand.
“Brother please…” Alric backhanded her across the face, the rings on his fingers cutting into her skin. Gregory struggled against the soldier holding him down, sputtering obscenities. Alric did not even acknowledge him, putting all his attention on the woman before him.
“You are no sister of mine.” He said bitterly, his eyes colder than the north winds. “You, who ran away to the South, you who married this, this, animal.” Alric spat at the ground in front of Gregory before continuing. “And for what? Peace? Peace? I burned a nation, killed tens of thousands of these miserable sand dogs, tell me, where is your peace now?” He brought his face close to hers, allowing her to see the bitterness in his heart. Tears came to Rosaleen’s eyes as she looked at the boy who had once laughed, who had had joy.
“What made you into this, brother? What has caused this hatred to grow inside you?” She whispered. She cried softly, the tears she had been holding back now rolling down her cheeks. Alric felt something that almost felt like compassion, but then he buried it beneath his anger.
“You know well why, and now the gods have brought this justice upon you.” He stood back up, but did not remove his gaze.
“Justice? You call all this death justice?” Gregory scoffed, fighting the soldier’s grip. “You are no true king, a true king would not condemn a nation to satisfy his wrath.” Alric looked at one of the soldiers standing next to Gregory, giving an unspoken but all too familiar order. The soldier drew back and hit Gregory in the stomach with his rifle, causing the aged king to double over. Rosaleen cried out for her husband, but Alric was not listening. He walked over in front of Gregory, looking down at the man while he gasped and sputtered.
“I didn’t bring this condemnation to your people, you brought it upon yourselves when you thought you could rise in rebellion, when you thought that you could reclaim your lands and push Melcania out.” Alric paused. “And I’m an emperor, not some common king.” He added matter of factly. Gregory regained himself, still breathing heavily as he pushed himself back up.
“We had a treaty, signed by your own hand, the gods condemn those who would break their oaths.” He huffed. Alric reeled on him, suddenly furious.
“MY OATHS!? YOU DARE SPEAK TO ME OF MY OATHS!?” He bellowed, backhanding the man, causing him to fall over again. “AND WHAT OF YOUR OATHS!? DID YOU NOT SWEAR ALLEGIANCE TO MELCANIA!? DID YOU NOT BEND TO OUR RULE!? YOUR REBELLION KILLED MY BROTHER!!” Alric screamed, kicking the king in his side as he tried to get back up.
“Brother! Please! Stop this! You’ve won! Isn’t that enough?” Cried Rosaleen. Alric hesitated, but then composed himself, stepping back from Gregory. He cleared his throat, straightening his cloak which had twisted in his excitement.
“Take these two to the dungeons, make sure they are kept in seperate cells. Keep them there until I’ve decided what to do with them.” The soldiers nodded, roughly pulling the pair to their feet. With that, Alric turned and began walking out, not giving the sand dog, nor his whore, another glance. He paused in the doorway but did not turn around. “And to answer your question, sister, no, it is not enough, it is never enough…” Alric continued walking, leaving the pair to their misery.
- Quinlan Texas
I am a story teller, always have been, always will be. For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep appreciation for the written word, I was the kid who actually enjoyed English class. When I was young, I read so much, that the worlds inside these books were a part of my life, I found myself invested in the adventures and struggles of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and Spartan 117.
But for as much as I love to read, my passion for writing is that much greater. I’ve always had stories inside my head, but I lacked the talent or, more accurately, I lacked the confidence to write anything longer than a prologue when I was in high school. It haunts me to think of all the unpublished stories that will never be known because I did not believe in myself.
Now that I am older, and I’ve had time to find my stride, so to speak, I am ready to bring forth my tales. Of lands far away, of nations great and old, and conflicts of all forms, stories with happy endings, and stories with not so happy endings, which I actually prefer anyway, I’ve never been a fan of plot armor or endings being made happy when a bitter ending would have struck more passion and fit more adequately with the book. But, I digress.
I hope the works I publish here will spark your interest, and bring you back again and again, to see all the other wonderful stories I have planned.
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