The latest from my online epic, Lore of the Underlings.
Chapter 3 continues:
“Next were the elders, we knew we’d need to tally those. They tended to die… though age and ill-health were the least of their woes. It seems that’s why the Semperor, so wise and well served by the eyes of spies, ruled their number so high as three hundred.
“Remember old Cornox, the boven man? Just a day before our departure, as Ayrie and I picked up pricklets in a thornblind down by the tar pool’s edge, we heard him come with another for a sit unseen on the round rocks. The other whispered a bit, but fell silent with a slap. Then the boven man began. In a voice that rattled of death he wheezed a musty tale, but nothing like we knew, all of the elders’ origin, of how they came to be. We couldn’t believe our ears and listened hard with all we had. This story was thick with politics. A lesson in the leader’s art, some of it dark.”
Fyryx coughed up something in his throat to make it go raspy and rough. “It went like this…”
So you believe the rhymes of children, do you? Songs of the elders’ election? O, how they were handpicked, selected from the wisest and most steadfast of all the land! Each by the touch of the Semperor himself, Poxum LVIII, the Foreknowing, Marshal of the Guarding Armies, Pilot Admiral of the Two-Seas Fleet, Keeper of the City at Syar-ull. Ooo, yes indeed. Then celebration! Their affirmation, solemn and warm, in the great cathydra’s Heroes Hall at Thynes, and the adoration of thousands strong, a throng awaiting them that night, beyond the storied rosewood doors…
Now surely that’s what some saw. But another side of the stone there was, the side in the soil with crawling things. Do you catch my meaning? It wasn’t just the good and pretty the Semperor picked. No, he was too clever not to toss some gutworms and bloodgrubs into the mix and be rid of them easy and quick.
So for every two of merit anointed, he chose as third a foe, a voice of dissent appointed for the Wilderness to swallow up silent. From popular prayerman Xole of Mer’n-syr who preached of the Semperors’ power grown too strong, to the ancient Sons of the Shadow Guard forever claiming a bloodline fraud, from crimes in Sempyre times gone by, to an angler named Wyll Kyll and crew who, in the port of Pyth-syr, made a stink of keeping their fishy catch for themselves to sell — five score such were called to appear at the Semperor’s court without delay for the honor of joining the Treasured there by the eve of Mourner’s Day.
A few dared decline as unwell or deceased, but most of those soon were “encouraged” to come, suddenly looking less sick and less dead. Only an alliance of eight remained, five men and three women (one surprisingly young) from the southern-most shores, as a thwart to the Semperor’s will. They fled to the foothills of snow-capped Mount Taan and there held fort with a small force of men, simple sectormen, with loyalty deep as a bag of gold, if you know what I mean. They watched and waited for the Guard to come but day upon day all was quiet. And then one morn from the mountain itself a lone messenger, encloaked in cloud, descended. The Semperor would meet them for talks, he announced, seven days hence at Floramore, in the Taan-syr Gardens by the sea. Suspicious though some were to accept, even they could not cast away such an unheard of concession as this.
The Eight arrived on a glorious day and were greeted with gifts and spiced sweets. A line of young maidens beckoned them on, onto a path of petals pink, with a spray of fragrant perfume as they passed. So here they left their protectors behind. They came to a field of wild plume in bloom and a table set beyond their dreams. Platters replete with succulent meats, rare delicacies and decadent treats, dish after tempting dish, each more sumptuous than the next, and mugglets of pure silver pom wine to drink. At the head, the white-bearded Semperor himself, who stood with welcoming warmth and wide arms. “My children, precious people, how good you would come. Please…” He motioned for them to be seated.
But before they could sit there appeared in their midst a sight that beguiled the eye of each. A creature bejeweled of colors bright, a flying flower in flittering flight. And then another. And suddenly more. “Enchanting, aren’t they,” said the Semperor. “But, be careful friends, don’t let one choose you. For it shall follow you forever, whispering worries of death in your ear till you’re mad, mad enough to hasten the end by your own hand. Oh, and did I mention that they are particularly drawn to the delightful scent of lillylorn that you wear? Of course, if you’d rather join my fine Guard under cover of yonder carriage…” The Semperor waved his steady hand toward a gleaming, gilded wagon — a team of combed and ribboned chevox yoked before it.
All of the alliance but one fled for their lives from the beautiful beasts. The lone holdout, a powerful merchant named Doolox Slyne, was defiant. “No, dear Lord of Lies, Poxum the Pretender! I shall not trade the treasure of my lifetime for your feast of fools and garden games.”
The ruler’s response came cool and calm. “A pity. But it matters no more, dear Doolox. You have a new friend now.” The man, middle-aged yet cocksure and quick, jumped back — but too late. A flying flower the red of blood and boney white lit to rest in peace upon his shoulder. “Farewell Doolox. May your soul be not forsaken with your foolish flesh.”
The Semperor turned away, admiring a pleasing array of angel horns, mersies, and forgive-me-nots as he ambled contentedly to his waiting carriage. But a boyish footman suddenly shuddered in horror, going pale as a ghost. “Sire… at your ear…you have been chosen!”
The great leader gave a fleeting glance, then laughed with warm bemusement at the pixie of purple and gold that fluttered playfully by his crown. “Long ago, my son. Long ago.”
Doolox was given a fresh chevox and clear passage. After three days’ journey, he reached the soaring Cliffs of Syar and home a free man, then leapt to his death in the sea.
More to come. To read this chapter from the start, click here.
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