Kneel to the King

I measure days by how much one can accomplish. Some days don’t mean much. Others can change the course of one’s life, and, if careful and ambitious enough, the course of an Era. I had planned this day for years. Decades, in fact.

I am going to kill my mentor, Keeper of the Preservers of Kitsuya.

The harsh clacks of my boots hitting the stone echoed through the cold, dark corridor, and the steady pound of my step brought the air of confidence and determination. The torches’ flames wavered as I passed. Soon I came up to the thick steel door, guarded by four mages standing at ease near the threshold. Usually there was just the one guard, but today things were different.

I approached them, exuding certainty that I would not be stopped. Of course, I knew I would be stopped, but superiority forced some strange social norms. “Evening, sir,” one greeted me. Saidan, I think his name was. “Did you see the sunset today?”

I nodded, gripping my left hand over my other wrist and calling flame to warm my skin. Soon a vague impression of a book permeated the surface of my skin, encompassing the real inked tattoo of the Preservers. I showed it to them. “I did. And I will see it rise tomorrow.” The four of them offered the same salute, revealing identical markings. Perfect.

Saidan opened the door and I passed through into the main hall. It was the size of a cathedral, and it was the part of the Endless Hall that contained the live specimens. It was a nice way of calling it a facility where we performed experiments on our prisoners. I passed by more Preservers as I walked, people going about their jobs taking notes or moving creatures into and out of cells. I acknowledged everyone I passed, exchanging nods, but there was no further communication.

After some time I reached a cell near the far end of the chamber. It was over ten times the size of every other one in the hall, and for a specific entity. One I happened to catch the day before: a near mythical beast of godlike power.

A dozen Preservers stood before the cell, taking notes and staring with unmasked amazement. One man stood ahead of them all, inspecting its contents with a speculative expression, as if pondering something that was amiss. He noticed my approach and gave me his full attention. “Archeus! Good to see you, boy. I wanted to speak with you about capturing this thing last night, but you retired to your quarters immediately after having bound it. You are well, I presume.”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

His brow furrowed as he looked back into the cell.”I’m afraid I’m having trouble understanding what it is you’ve found. It seems to be empty except for this tree. You reported that you had captured a strider.”

I followed his gaze and noticed that there was indeed a tree occupying the center of the cell. It was several stories tall, its height nearly touching the hall’s ceiling, if indeed it did not. Being on the ground floor made that hard to judge. “That, Kalkenshi, is a strider.”

“You’ll address me as Keeper in my presence, boy,” he shot back. “I know its a strider. Tell me more about it. How you caught it. What kind of barriers you placed on the cell to keep it in. Explain it to the people who are not so informed as you or I.” What a pathetic attempt to save face. I felt anger build up in my chest, but breathed it out. Patience. Today was the day. Only a bit longer.

“Well, sir,” I stated, careful to avoid using his title as he demanded. “You can’t have expected me to have carried a tree that large into the Endless Hall. Especially not in one night. Obviously, it wasn’t like that when I brought it in here.” Stupid. He was so stupid.

“Watch your tongue. So it’s shapeshifted.” Nobody had ever seen a strider shapeshift. They always managed to do it when nobody was looking. It’s why they were legendary. Nobody outside the Preservers even knew they really existed. Tracking it down had been a real pain.

“Seems that way,” I noted, a bored tone seeping into the words.

“I thought they had to keep to an animal form when they did that.”

“Doesn’t look like it.”

“You’re trying my patience, Archeus.” Likewise, I wanted to shoot back. I glanced at the others who were near, listening to our conversation with barely veiled interest.

“Fine, fine. The truth is, that thing isn’t contained. There are no barriers. No spells. It is sitting inside that cell of its own volition.”

“You dare lie to my face?!” he spat. His fists were clenched. He had had enough.

“It’s the truth. I told him what he wanted to hear in exchange for him helping me kill you.” Kalkenshi seemed taken aback at this. I suppose anyone hearing that statement would be. I reveled in the sheer terror on his face at having such a powerful creature in his sacred hall unbound. Not all of it was true, of course. The strider wasn’t exactly on speaking terms with me. I doubted if they even knew human speech. But I didn’t bother with barriers. It would be like trying to stop the wind by watering the grass.

“That’s it. Your insolence has drawn the line. As Keeper and guide of the Preservers, I outcast you, Archeus. You will leave this place at once or I will kill you here and now.”

I smiled. Finally. Everyone around us stopped what they were doing altogether now. I placed a hand on my wrist, heating it up as before. And I showed Kalkenshi the mark of the Redeemed, the secret society of Preservers that aimed to stop its tyranny.

His eyes flushed with rage, and looked around, only to realize that everyone around him had done the same thing. I had planned this day. Everybody working in this hall was a Redeemed. “This isn’t an act of defiance, Kalkenshi. This is a coup.” I called the magic of Kitsuki into my mind, extending it into my palm and raised a spear of ice towards his throat.

And he laughed. “You poor fools.” He didn’t look scared anymore. “I guess my plans will have to be enacted a bit sooner than schedule, but no matter. You will all be dead just the same.” A circle appeared on the ground around him. It grew larger with every second, more intricately detailed than any magic circle I had ever seen. It pulsed red.

Then exploded.

The room grew still as everything stopped. Even the various creatures inside grew quiet with their strange inexplicable sense of danger. Everyone in Kalkenshi’s immediate area had been thrown off their feet, and I was no exception. I struggled to my feet, my body feeling heavier than I was accustomed to. I was hurting everywhere, but it was too universal a pain to pinpoint any muscles.

“You will be the first to see the true extent of my power, boy. You’ve never been more than a pawn in this game of yours. You have no idea what you’re dealing with. Overthrow me? You must be joking.” I realized very few people had gotten up. Something seemed to have been pulling them to the ground, as if by some sort of magnetic force. The same force that was trying to pull me down, I realized.

I used the magic power again and duplicated the ice spear. (The old one dissipated when I dropped it, as all magic not connected to a source does.) “Still defiant, eh?” he scoffed. “You’re lucky I can’t kill you. No. I need you to stand witness to the strength of the true Keeper. Kitsuya’s new King.”

“Kitsuya will never bow to you,” I argued through gritted teeth.

“It will. Starting with you.” And with that, he took a step forward. His movement made it that much harder to stay on my feet. It was like I was getting heavier than I should be.

He began walking towards me, with a leisurely yet very deliberate pace. Every second I found my own weight unbearable, struggle as I might. I jabbed the spear into the ground for support, but it shattered under my grip.

Then, I fell to my knees. He knelt down next to me, and whispered in my ear. “It would be so easy to kill you now when you can’t fight back, but I think it more prudent to use you as a tool to tell the world of what is coming. The Preservers are already a force of nature. But now I have become a force in a literal sense. This god of yours yields not to you, but it will bend to me. By force if necessary.” All of my plans, tossed aside and spat on by this unknown power. Despicable.

He stood, and spoke in a louder tone. He still addressed me, but he wanted everyone to hear this part. “Now go. You may tell the rest of your little secret sect that your grand scheme has failed. In fact, all you really accomplished  was setting my plans in motion. My grand scheme has only just begun.”

I realize the part about the strider doesn’t really make much sense in the context of the story. I promise in the grand scheme of things it is important, and if this piece had a before and after that would be apparent. For now though, it just seems weird, but I have no current plans to make any serious edits.

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