Friday, June 14, 2013

17049--Child of Fire and Blood (Ch. 5)

The trouble starts over on the Theobroma page. I've decided to continue it out here with a few chapters for your perusal. Enjoy a taste of Tarakk prior to indulging in the whole novel. Feedback or questions on the world, its people, their gods or whatever are equally welcome.




Alone, King Tural ascended the hidden stairway that carried him from the den behind the throne dais up to a stone wall inscribed with ancient sigils. Putting thoughts of the festivities behind him, he raised a unique obsidian dagger and steeled himself before slicing open his left palm. Taking a final step forward, the monarch pressed his hand to the wall, moving it from one arcane symbol to the next. He solemnly recited each symbol’s name as he anointed it with his blood. Then, with the ninth, the wall faded and vanished.

Before the king, the Celestial Temple and the Circle of Nine stood revealed. King Tural felt a fluttering in his belly as he stepped into the presence of the wizard-priests. He noted that the air was cooler than he expected, then noticed the precipitation of tiny hailstones falling from one of the glowing clouds wafting across the room. Each hailstone burst as it tapped to the stone floor, exploding in a spray of colored light. Setting his awe of the temple aside, the monarch realized the magic users were oblivious to his arrival.
“I bring you salutations of the Crimson Throne,” King Tural said, looking about for any sign of acknowledgement. “Your regular Speaker, Chief Minister Araka, has died as a result of illness. A new Speaker has yet to be chosen, but we must converse. By the Blood Rite of Malechis, I bid you hear me.
“Tshan’casai, long-thought dormant and locked away, is loose in the world,” Tural explained. “It is in the hands of my son and I feel that he is in the thrall of its powers. You know the sword’s potential for danger is beyond measure. You must tell me some way in which it can be stopped. I am a warrior and king, but I am also a father and I do not wish to seek Lar Kwa’s end. Tell me there is some way to save us all from--”
“You demand much of minds so strained as theirs,” a familiar voice greeted the king from the doorway to his rear. “That is the way of a ruler, I suppose, always insistent upon having things work just the way you want them to. You have always sought to rule with the strength of your fathers.”
The troubled ruler faced his polished prince as he glided into the chamber with a comfortable pride. King Tural saw the persuasiveness of the charismatic image that draped his son as elegantly as the black silk cloak hanging from his shoulders. His shining gray eyes and practiced smile were crowned by neatly trimmed golden locks. The king was nearly entranced by the radiant confidence and winning beauty he projected. He struggled to resist the magic’s cloying influence, fighting to perceive his son beneath his persuasive aura.
“You know nothing of either the strength or the sacrifice,” Tural snarled, “needed to maintain crown, throne and kingdom.”
“My strength has come to me,” Lar Kwa said, stepping forward, “through other struggles beyond your experience.”
“What are you doing?” the monarch asked of his son as he entered. “You do not belong in this sacred space.”
“Belong? Of course, I belong,” Lar Kwa insisted, his unyielding smile clearly disturbing to his father. “You would know better if you could only hear the call as I do. I know, father, how loathsome you find the burden of sharing with me, but I won’t begrudge you that. I’m sure it comes from your warrior’s heart, so determined never to surrender anything.”
“You have drawn a bloody red line in the snow,” Tural said, his ire building, “and it is a challenge that will not go unmet.”
“Ultimately, you are a wise man. You will come to see that this is what must be. I am the divine instrument of inevitable change.”
“I will not allow you to have this kingdom,” Tural told his son. “You have fallen under an unnatural influence.”
“Certainly, father,” the younger man said. “I have opened myself to its glory. When I told you I could hear the call, what did you think I meant?”
“That you were losing your mind, of course,” King Tural replied.
“You have more of a sense of humor than I remembered, father,” Lar Kwa said. “You have grown weary, though, from your valiant struggles against the crises that have beset these lands. Like a pilot too long at the ship’s helm in a raging storm, it is your time to rest and let another see us to safe harbor. I am home now.”
“You are toying with forces beyond your understanding. I have entered this temple, come into the presence of the Nine, that I might seek their counsel. Your entry here--”
“Dear father,” Lar Kwa chuckled, “if you do get these ancient treasures to speak, I imagine I shall have a far better understanding of their words than you. There are things that happen to one’s mind when expanded by magic’s touch…” the prince said, tapping a finger to his own temple.
“Yes, the maddening that affects the human mind is well known,” King Tural said. “Relinquish that weapon and leave this temple. Tshan’casai gathers more magical power into itself than mortal hands should ever know. It will consume you and twist all the works you would achieve into ruin.”
“Those who would name this sublime beauty madness,” Lar Kwa said, drawing the golden, chisel-tip long sword, “are unable to comprehend what is seen beyond the shadows when others dare open themselves to realms beyond mundane experience. I understand so much more than ever before and have come to commune with the Nine, not in fear but to join with them in changing this world for the better. Their magics and mine will unite and you will see the beginning of a new age.”
With casual swiftness, the prince raised the golden two-handed sword overhead. The thick blade moved with near-weightless ease as Lar Kwa held it aloft and felt himself buoyed by the rush of its power. Beyond the brilliance of its golden, mirror-finish, the sword began to shine, bathing the gathered men in its dazzling light.
“Tshan’casai,” King Tural whispered, recoiling as he shielded his eyes.
“You see, remnants of your past are not to be carelessly discarded,” Lar Kwa said. “Observe.”
Without even a gesture, the wizard-priests began to move toward the prince, shuffling forward as though sleepwalking.
“See how they flock to me, father,” Lar Kwa said. “Thus will the masses of Alban gather. Those who embrace wisdom will pray to me and the salvation I offer. They will have the curse of plague lifted from them. My light will--”
“They are not all ill,” Tural reminded him. “Those loyal to the crown--”
“Will still be weak from hunger,” Lar Kwa said, his voice changing to one Tural did not recognize, powerful and daunting. “They will be weak and afraid, some may even hate you for it. Those souls, too, will I then claim, wherever the golden light finds purchase. You denied this power out of fear, deafened yourself to the sword’s call.”
“It lures you to destruction!” Tural lashed out, the back of his hand finding the prince’s cheek with a reflex that rekindled memories thought buried. “I command you to quit this path of folly!”
“I yield to it. It shares its power with me,” the prince countered, his voice once again his own, “parenting me in ways you never could. The embrace must not be denied. Your time is done and you must withdraw now, father. It is I who will lead us into the light. It is I who will guide us to the future that awaits.”
Almost involuntarily, Tural found himself awash in a strange calm as he backed toward the door of the Celestial Temple. Lar Kwa’s aura grew brighter, the light hurting Tural’s eyes. As he drew near the doorway, a line of hooded, robed men filed in past the king. Two of them carried a litter with a large golden orb supported between them.
Who? What? the baffled king wondered aloud.
Through the intense glow, Tural could see the newly arriving men gathering about Lar Kwa with the wizards of the Nine. In his confusion, he felt a strange tremor in his chest as the men of magic began to chant in a hypnotic rhythm.
Tural saw Lar Kwa raise his free hand as the chanting degenerated to a swirling soup of words in his mind. As the king felt his stomach and head attempting to trade places, he realized that he should have heeded his son’s urging to withdraw. Golden light obscured his vision. His ears were flooded with a chorus of voices, first from the Nine, then by additional tones that he both knew and did not know but all bringing him an unexpected level of peace. The voices chattered at him all at once, confusing him more and more as he tried to make any sense of them. How long his sensory miasma continued, he could not tell, but one voice finally broke through his fog and overpowered the din of all the others.

RUN! came the sharply intelligible intonation.
“Relinquish your burdens to me, father. I will take your mantle upon my shoulders and carry us forward in ways you could not,” Lar Kwa said. “I feel your uncertainty, but the embrace of the light will burn it all away and you will thank me later for this gift. Cry to the world that the gods bring a new day from above!”
King Tural’s gold silk cloak fell from his shoulders as he ran from the Celestial Temple. In confusion, he stumbled down the hidden stairs. Panic and adrenaline drove his pounding heart. His mind clouded, he could barely think, acting primarily on instinct.
Lar Kwa stood on the ring of onyx and gold as he looked down upon the assemblage gathered in the throne room. His eyes searched the edges of the crowd, making sure that his photojournalist Mischa had recorders trained upon him as he had ordered. With his father’s golden cloak replacing his own black one, the prince held an open hand out to the people below.
“Hear me, Alban! Plague has ravaged our people,” Lar Kwa called out, drawing the attention of the full assemblage at once, “defying medicine, magic and science, with utter disregard for quarantine or contact, geography, age or status. Fear has taken hold of hearts and minds, but no longer. Join with me and be free!”
He tightened his grip on Tshan’casai and thrust it overhead. The polished golden blade gleamed in the Celestial Temple’s unnatural light, adding to the magical glow that surrounded it. Much of the crowd gasped at the sight of the legendary weapon being openly brandished for the first time in decades. Most had never before seen Tshan’casai, having heard its name whispered only as legend. Hushed murmurs raced through the crowd.
With the ancient blade in hand, Lar Kwa stood above his people as a giant. In that transcendent moment, the shining prince held a pose that ignited memories of Mighty King Mokwa, taught to every Albani school child as the founder of the empire to which their proud nation once belonged. The surreal image reminiscent of the Father of Alban looking down upon them stirred hearts beyond reason, pushing an emotional swell of reverence through the crowd.
Many, including King Tural, could do nothing more than fall silent. Still regaining his senses, Tural was certain that he felt his heart skip a beat as a bizarre chill clawed at it fiercely. The monarch felt an unwelcome desperation as he took the hand of his queen and quickly led her away from the dais of the Crimson Throne.
“During my long journeys, I have awakened to the truth of my power! As I have returned to you with feasts in the face of famine,” Lar Kwa continued, “so too do I bring you the power to break the deadly grip of this plague! If your faith is strong, through me, the dawn shall see our people restored! Through the sword of my fathers, we shall be free of foreign oppression! No longer will we tolerate attempts to starve and control us! With the light of truth, we will drive them back to their homeland!”
The sword glowed like a sunbeam in his hand and Lar Kwa willed a shaft of golden light to shoot upward from Tshan’casai and through the faceted crystalline dome that topped the Celestial Temple. Almost instantly, black storm clouds gathered, swirling ominously about the golden beacon. Lightning flashed repeatedly above the palace, bringing the roar of thunder chasing the blinding bolts. More gasps and tense mumblings were drowned out by the building storm, but a chaotic shift of moods clearly swept the room.
“Blessings of the divine have showered upon me! Add me to your evening prayers this joyous Father’s Day,” Lar Kwa commanded, “for I come before you as the herald of ancient gods! Here will my hand draw down their matchless power! Pledge yourselves to our cause that your faith will see our people made whole! First Alban will heal and then march into the future, renewed! Follow me and our enemies will be swept before our might! The raging storm will warn all Tarakk to let none stand against us!”
A validating surge of applause swept the gala as the assembled guests felt themselves overwhelmed with irresistible emotion. For the first time in weeks, the Charis’colia had been given something more to sustain them than vague hope. His display of power and his confident promise brought Prince Lar Kwa the adulation he had longed for and, at that moment, the assurance that he was done with exile. His magical radiance buoyed his spirit as it shone down on the thousand eyes Lar Kwa felt upon him. He was unable to repress the laughter bubbling from within as he bathed the palace guests in his dazzling light. Spiraling ceaselessly, the storm began to warp around an increasingly calm eye centered upon Crown City even as its fury continued to build both beyond the city’s walls and in Lar Kwa’s soul.

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