Right. So I’ve been “working” on this stupid story since my freshman year of college. And I had an epiphany about it a week or so ago that has helped with the major writer’s block I was suffering with it. So I’m posting the prologue here and might continue posting the short chapters as I come up with them. I’m not telling anything about the plot, except that the empire’s name is Minatrusis. If you read this blog, you’ll just have to see how it develops as it goes. Also, this Prologue may or may not change as time goes on. We shall see. 😀
Glossary of Terms you’ll find in the Prologue in order of appearance:
Untaou: the elite enforcement agency of the Empire. Characterized by animal-shaped masks, this group has been in existence for nearly 1000 years – almost as long as the Empire itself. It has been responsible for the conquest of no less than 30% of the provinces now held by the Empire. Its members have shown unwavering loyalty to the Empress throughout most of its history. After a failed coup led by deceased leader Josk Danta, the group was disbanded.
Lirni: a predatory animal. Similar to a tiger in form, but roughly the size of a timber wolf as well as a “pack” mentality like wolves.
Iblas: the general term for a bloodline power. There are six basic ‘types’ of bloodline powers. Each noble family usually possesses a bloodline power, though some posses more than one. Members of the main royal bloodline can theoretically use all six types, but the first to develop is usually Amaean and it is therefore the preferred power used.
Amaean: the iblas associated with the control of lightning. The royal family Ental possesses this iblas.
Rokuan: the iblas associated with the control of fire. The Danta family possesses this iblas.
Greva: a predatory animal. Similar to a shark.
Hyuton: a predatory animal. Similar to a wolf in form, but is larger than a horse and generally used as mounts when tamed.
Danta: one of the four prominent noble families of Minatrusis. Rules over the Burgium province and possesses the Rokuan iblas.
Ental: the royal family of Minatrusis. Rules over the Empire and possesses the Amaean iblas.
Grixsa: a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn; generally bronze in color, though other colors aren’t uncommon, with three gray horns; extremely timid and rare. The rarest type is silver-hued with golden horns.
Thus far the evening had been unremarkable. The palace grounds were quiet as the guards did their rounds. The light cast by the three moons bathed everything in a peaceful silvery light. Perhaps this lulled the guards into complacency. It was difficult to believe that a military coup might take place tonight. There was no sign of unauthorized personnel as a gentle breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees and sent waves through the grass. No. It was simply ridiculous to think anyone would strike against Empress Rosal.
And yet the peace was abruptly shattered. A bolt of fire struck the ground before two guards. The men were thrown backwards by the blast. They were blinded, deafened, and burned but alive. War cries rose all around in an eerie chorus. This was it. Dozens of black-clothed men rushed across the grounds, attacking guards as they went. The masks they wore were reminiscent of animals, untamed and bloodthirsty. These were the masks of the Untaou – Empire’s elite enforcers. Its members had showed nothing but unwavering loyalty throughout its long history and answered to the Empress alone. Until now.
The firebolts struck sporadically, lighting up the night with a bloody glow. Its source was another man, cloaked in black and taller than the others were. He strode calmly forward behind his men. Soon, the rebels reached the palace and broke down the doors. “Kill the Empress! Kill the princesses and prince! Let none stand in your way!” called the tall man as he stepped through the splintered doors.
“Yes, sir!” They moved through the halls with ruthless efficiency. Despite every attempt made by the guards, the rebels made steady progress towards their goals. They knew the quirks and skills of each and every guard, after all. Screams befitting the gruesome death of each defender reverberated throughout the palace. Soon, several of the rebels came across the Empress Rosal and her guard in mid-flight. “What irony,” one said, his voice husky. His mask resembled a snarling lirni. At an unseen signal, the rebels with him leapt towards the guards. As the two groups clashed, the Empress faced the leader.
“Your misguided goals will not be accomplished this night. You will pay for your defiance, each in their turn,” she said. The air around her seemed charged. It took on a bluish hue as she called upon her iblas. As the air about him shimmered with the heat of his own iblas, he laughed at her. It was utterly humorless.
“My misguided goals? This is not my war, Empress. But there is much to be said of our leader’s particular brand of…persuasion. I am sure you understand what I mean…It’s nothing personal.”
She calmly gazed at the masked man. It was impossible to tell if she understood. Or if, perhaps, she chose not to. Abruptly she nodded. “All shall pay, each in their turn…I wish that this had not come to pass,” she murmured. Lirni frowned. Had she known all along?
Without warning, her hand swept up and Amaean lightning leapt from it. Lirni twisted to the side, bending backwards to avoid the bolt as his own hand shot a stream of Rokuan fire at the Empress. The blue hue around her solidified, causing the flames to split and slip past. He straightened and gathered the fire in both hands, compressing it into tightly spinning balls and magnifying their power. Her shield needed to be broken in one short burst, immediately followed by another blast. With all his strength, Lirni hurled one ball at the shield. He felt the discharged power as the shield wavered then shattered. Without hesitation, he threw the second ball where the shield had broken.
As if in slow motion, he watched the ball pass through and slam into the Empress. It bloomed into a raging inferno that utterly engulfed her. The shield instantly disintegrated as she flew backwards. There was only silence for several minutes until Lirni extinguished the flames with a flick of his hand. He slowly moved down the corridor, walking through the air like a diver pushing his way through deep, heavy water. When he finally reached her, he stared down at the Empress’ charred body. He felt cheated in a way. She had nearly sixty years of experience and not inconsiderable strength. He had the stamina and raw power of youth. Somehow, he felt it shouldn’t have ended so quickly. “We are done here,” he said. “No more.”
The others nodded as one, though his back was to them. Looking at the bodies around them, they couldn’t help but feel disgusted. There was a fine line between a revolution and insanity. They knew now, beyond all doubts, that fine line had been crossed somewhere far too long ago. “Greva. Hyuton. Return to the rendezvous point and release Lor and Vorne. They should yet be alive, since their guards are more in line with us than our illustrious leader.” His gaze never left her body as he gave his orders. “Bring them here immediately. We need to end this.”
Lirni moved a bit closer to the Empress, ignoring the nauseating stench of burnt flesh. He couldn’t help it. That final look haunted him. He knew it would haunt him for the rest of his life. It shouldn’t have been on her face. A soft expression they had all seen just before the flames had enveloped her – as if she truly understood and forgave them. No questions asked. She had let him kill her so easily.
“I have to find him,” Lirni murmured before turning and running back the way his squad had come. They, in turn, followed him.
“Atreos, wake up. Wake up, darling.” Princess Yulia shook her son awake. Beside her stood Jani the servant girl and Yulia’s terrified daughter Saari.
“Huh? What’s going on, Mama?” Atreos asked as he clambered out of bed. It was so late. He couldn‘t understand why his mama, sister, and caretaker were all up in their nightclothes and cloaks.
“There is no time to explain, darling. We have to go.”
“Here,” Jani added, wrapping Atreos in a cloak she had brought with. It was much too large for the nine-year-old. Yulia could have laughed at the sight of her son swallowed up in one of her older cloaks. But there was no time for laughter. “It’ll have to do,” the princess said briskly. “Now come along, Atreos.”
Atreos looked at them, feeling more than a little lost. He had been sleeping soundly, caught up in a dream about him and Rochelle in the woods – sitting by the stream, seeing the herd slip past them like liquid silver. And now…now Mama was looking concerned. And Saari – his brave awesome amazing big sister who was never ever scared – she looked like she was going to faint. Like the ladies of court sometimes did when their dresses were too tight. Except Saari never wore her dresses too tight, so why would she faint? He wanted to go back to sleep. It was his birthday and it had been such a long day. But the look on his mother’s face made him hold his tongue. If Mama was worried enough to show it, then he had better not protest right now. Maybe later when whatever was going on had calmed down. So he silently took his mother’s hand and followed her to the hall. Jani and Saari trailed close behind, Saari holding on tightly to Jani’s hand. Atreos looked back and took hold of Saari’s other hand, giving and seeking comfort.
The four moved swiftly through the halls, passing several guards on their trek. Blood-curdling screams could be heard directly beneath them. Atreos clung to his mother. He was slowly becoming as terrified as his fifteen-year-old sister appeared to be. Now he was definitely confused. Why was there screaming? Why were they leaving in the middle of the night, with nothing but cloaks and their bed-things? And where was his father, Lor? Papa should have been back from his trip with Papi Vorne by now! Papa would know what was going on, right? And he’d explain it all so Atreos could understand. Why wasn’t his papa here? But Atreos didn’t dare ask. Confused as he was, he knew this wasn’t the time to pester his mother with his perpetual questions.
After what seemed like an eternity, they stopped before a portrait of a former Empress. Yulia released Atreos’ hand. Stepping forward, she pulled the portrait away from the wall to reveal a dark passageway. “In you go. Quickly now,” she said. Saari and Atreos clambered through the wall, fear still radiating from them as their faces scrunched up from the mildewy smell in the passage. Jani swiftly followed. Yulia made to climb in as well when she suddenly glanced to her right. “Jani,” she whispered. “Take Atreos and Saari and follow this passageway until you reach a flight of stairs. Head all the way down them and through the corridor you find there until you reach a door. Flee through it. And do not look back, understood? Just run as fast as you can.” Jani nodded, taking the prince and princess by the hand.
“What about you, Mama?” Atreos asked. But Yulia wasn’t paying attention. She slammed the portrait against the wall and turned to face the figure now approaching her. She began to dig for the iblas – the heartless blue Amaean that was her birthright…yet she could not find it in her. Her head throbbed in agony as she tried. It was as if something was blocking her or misdirecting her efforts.
“Not going to try and escape, Yulia? Going to stand and fight instead?” he asked. His soft voice, coming from the depths of his cowl, sent shivers through Yulia. It was an eerily familiar voice. She took several steps back, standing to the left of the portrait. Desperately, she reached for the lightning that always sparked through her whole being. And again, she felt nothing but her throbbing headache. “Better to give my children a chance to escape than let us all die,” she said defiantly.
“How do you expect to stop me when you cannot even grasp your iblas?” he scoffed. Yulia’s blood ran cold. The man snickered as her face paled. “I suppose it does not matter, anyway.” There was scuffling behind the portrait Yulia had just closed. It fell away to reveal the young trio being firmly held by several men. But how had they known about the passage? The royal family had jealously guarded knowledge about the network of passages and tunnels hidden within the walls of the palace for centuries. “You see?” the man said. “Pointless resistance. But now…now I get the pleasure of doing the deed myself.” The man nodded and two others grabbed Yulia. Their masks glinted in the moons’ light.
“Why? Why are you doing this?” she demanded, unsure if the man would even answer. The children were dragged out of the passageway and held tightly just to Yulia’s left.
The man jabbed an accusatory finger at her. “One who cannot accept the family’s wishes and those who indulge that rebellious nature are filth. Isn’t that right, Yulia?” He waved the same hand in the direction of Yulia’s children. “The way I see it, you and your unnatural brats have no place on the throne. Rochelle belongs on there more than any of you. And the gods know it!” Fire crackled around him in his outrage. Yulia frowned. How Rochelle could be more worthy when she was of the Danta line was a baffling thought. Her children were of the proper Ental blood line, just as Yulia was. Saari had even begun controlling the Amaean with ease! “This would have been the crowning moment of this little rebellion, if I could have gotten to Rosal first. Ah, well. Darling baby brother certainly did my dream justice. I will not begrudge him.” Yulia’s eyes widened as things finally clicked. The odd taste of the wine from earlier. The headache that plagued her even now. But it was far too late. A silvery gleam was the only warning she had. The man smoothly slashed Yulia’s throat. The spattered droplets seemed black against Atreos’ pale skin. He would have screamed, but his mind and body had disconnected. This wasn’t happening. The men wearing these masks—masks he had always admired, always wanted to wear—weren’t doing this. Their loyalty wasn’t exposed as a lie. This wasn’t real. It was just a dream. Just a nightmare. He squeezed his eyes shut. He had to wake up now!
But when he opened them, nothing had changed. This was no dream.
The man turned to Atreos and Saari as Yulia dropped to the ground, scrabbling at her neck. “Now for you two,” he whispered. But the young prince’s attention was riveted by the sight of his mother. Yulia was no longer moving, though the blood continued to spurt from her wound. But it was the look on her face that froze Atreos – as if death and horror were darkening her gaze in equal measure. Why…gods, why had they done this to her? “Mama?” he whimpered.
The man simply laughed at the boy’s pitiful question and gestured towards the rebels. Saari was dragged towards him, struggling wildly against her captors. Atreos finally tore his attention from his mother. This new sight wasn’t much of an improvement. Saari’s eyes held more terror than Atreos thought possible. But then again…they both knew Death stood before them. The cowl had fallen back slightly, revealing the man’s assassin mask. And its porcelain face was an innocent grixsa. “Do not worry,” he assured the princess. “The poison moves quickly. I doubt you will feel a thing as you bleed out.” Another slash and more droplets decorated Atreos’ face, delicate as freckles. Saari slumped atop their mother, hands clutched desperately at her throat to hold the blood in. It was Atreos’ turn, now. This was the end, then. He didn’t struggle like his sister and mother. What was the point? There would be no more hunts with Papa and Papi Vorne. He had no doubts they were dead as well. And he wouldn’t get to tease Saari again. Definitely no more walks with Mama and Mami Rosal, taking afternoon tea in the palace gardens. Tears welled up in his eyes as he realized there wouldn’t be any more picnics with Rochelle. They fell one after another because he could no longer dream of being worth something, even if he was hidden behind a mask. Even if he could, he wouldn’t want a mask anymore. The Untaou had tarnished it forever. But it didn’t matter because this was The End.
Atreos wanted to scrunch his eyes shut, desperately wished to block out Grixsa. He could barely see the assassin through his tears, but he could see that Grixsa was hesitating. Why was he being forced to wait? His whole body ached from the adrenaline that rocketed through him. His head throbbed with each pulsing heartbeat, adding tears of pain to his blurred vision. And still, Grixsa did not kill him. Why wouldn’t he end this terrible pain? Why was he forcing Atreos to suffer like this when Yulia and Saari had been granted immediate death? It was as if this moment of time were frozen and they couldn’t move forward or backward. But the boy knew time still marched on because the pain in his head was not constant. It grew and grew until he could stand it no longer. He let out an agonized cry and finally closed his eyes. Surely now, death would come. The pain was too much.
But death eluded the boy.
Instead, yells and inhuman snarls of fury reached him. Atreos found himself suddenly free of his captor’s arms. The release was quite unexpected. He fell to his knees beside his mother and sister. His hands fell upon them to prevent him from falling. They felt so wrong to his small hands. Thuds and miserable cries assailed his ears, distracting him from his own rapidly fading pain. Jani attempted to pull him away. But the prince jerked out of her grasp and remained unmoving, refusing to even open his eyes. And then a strange gurgling sound reached him. Silence slowly descended once more. The pain had faded away to a dull ache that filled his entire being – unfocused and wearisome. And still, Atreos kept his eyes closed. Only when he heard a comforting, familiar voice did he consider opening them.
“It’s ok, Atreos. You can open your eyes now. I’m here,” Lor said soothingly. The boy sniffled before slowly opening his eyes. The first sight to greet him was that of the still-warm bodies of Yulia and Saari. Their eyes were still filled with fear, glazed though they were. Atreos gave a small cry and pulled his hands away. He tried to scramble away from the bodies, but his hands slipped on the floor and he nearly lost his balance. Lor caught the boy with ease and steadied him with one hand.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here, Atreos.” Atreos looked up at his father with a confused frown, then stared down at his hands. Blood slicked them, still black against his skin. Would Papa’s presence have made any difference? “I’m so sorry.” Lor moved the hand that had steadied his son and cupped the boy’s cheek. His thumb wiped away the tears that were still trickling down, smearing the blood of his wife and daughter on his near-doppelganger’s cheek in the process. The other hand was firmly pressed against his side, where Grixsa had cut him.
Atreos said nothing. He merely pulled away from his father’s hand to look around the hall. A crowd stood around the two. Many of them also wore the masks he had once coveted. He ignored them for the moment and turned his attention to the bodies littering the floor. Some were guards. Others wore those masks, broken to reveal faces he had known his whole life. He dismissed each in turn, just as he had the crowd. They were insignificant, not what he was looking for. To his left lay what he sought — the man with the grixsa mask. He was unmoving. Atreos slowly crawled over to him with some difficulty, since his hands were still blood-slicked. But he couldn’t find the energy to actually stand up. The boy met no resistance from Lor as he crawled away from his father.
Moonlight streaming through a broken window illuminated the dead man’s face, covered by neither the cloak’s cowl nor an assassin’s mask. His neck stood open, red as bloody venison. Numbly, Atreos recognized the man – his cousin Josk Danta. A man who, not eight hours prior, had stood with Rochelle at his side. He had stood with a smile on his face in the afternoon sun that had bathed the royal gardens that day in delicious warmth. He had wished Atreos a happy ninth birthday.
“Darling baby brother certainly did my dream justice.”
As those words echoed in his mind, the boy shuddered and jerked away. He pulled his legs up to himself, wrapped his arms around them, and started softly crying. He felt his father’s warm arms encircle him and he moved his hands to cling to his father’s tunic. A damp hand stroked his hair soothingly and he cried even harder. “Mamaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
“Shhhh, Atreos. It will be okay. Papa’s here. Papa will make it okay.”
His father had always been terrible at lying.