THE KINGDOM CHRONICLES
THE ELEMENTS AND THE EXODUS
The war is far from over.
Tolucan may be dead, Malystryx may have been purified, and Zarrys may have been crowned; but that was only the beginning. Far south of Mount Ryel, nestled safely inside a stronghold of a wall, lies the majestic palace in Dedoram, a battleground that remains to be conquered. Dedoram has been left to Tolucan’s queen Fiona, and beyond Dedoram are the other cities of the nations King Tolucan conquered during his rule. The entire continent is freshly scarred from the two decades of war, and the humans will doubtfully take to the rule of an elf with kindness.
As King Zarrys and his comrades make their way south, a great debate has already begun. Shunul, the greatest enemy of the new king, has put his next plan into action. Fiona is not alone in Dedoram, and Shunul knows precisely whom to attack next.
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With an Act of Desperation
The silent world around him drifted by in slow motion as it shifted between scenes. He was no longer in the comfort of his bed, nor was he anywhere near it. In the midst of his dreams, he had been carried far away from the palace and was now floating over the masses of the army. He stood far behind them, watching silently, as they entered the tight canyon ahead.
Where are they going? he thought.
He was lifted by an unknown force and carried high over their heads. He passed them rank by rank, marking how their red tunics and glittering armor shimmered from his lofty vantage point. They looked like a fearsome flow of blood making its way down a tight crack in the land’s armor. It was truly an awe-inspiring sight.
Soon he came up behind the king. As he dropped in and floated along beside his brother, he watched the determined look in the king’s eye change. One moment he had the expression of fear and doubt. The next moment his eyes became dark and gray, his expression filled with fury, and his mouth opened in a cry as he pointed his sword ahead. His brother’s yell made no sound, for all was silent, but it turned his gaze toward the approaching valley.
It had taken time, but they were nearly out of the canyon. They would empty into a long valley deep within the high branches of the Zulacon Mountains. Straight ahead of them was a monstrous, snow-capped volcano covered in rugged grass and brush. A cliff dominated the volcano’s base, and the vent at the cliff’s summit made the mountain look almost like an old face with a tight mouth and rugged beard. The peak towered high over the surrounding ranges, and a crowning cloud over its heights glowed brightly in the failing sunlight.
Could this be the place? he questioned his brother in thoughtful confusion. Is this where you said the army must go? Why here? What’s so important? You’re nowhere near Yerhan or even Zylonus. You’re going the entirely opposite direction. Why can’t you let them go? They’re kids! What damage could they do? What harm can they bring to the kingdom? You’ve destroyed their people already; just leave them alone.
Tolucan had feared the lands of Kokanan since the day King Zarrys had died. They both had. They knew what happened that day. Something had been waiting for that battle. Those lands, those people, those creatures—they were all a cursed and foul group. Something dark and evil—another creature—lurked north of the Zulacon; it had for hundreds of years. Rumors about the thing covered the continent and legends were easily played off as myth, but not after that day. That day, they had seen it themselves. It had turned their gruesome battle into a malicious nightmare—a living hell. Even before, from his place outside Zylonus, he had heard the simultaneous screams and the instantaneous silencing of them when the clouds turned the city to ash. The creature lurked in the mountains. Kokanan was its territory, and if it found you within its barren home, it rent and massacred you. Why would you drive the army so far north—so deep into ranges of hell? Have you gone mad? Are you looking for the creature? Why are you keeping so many secrets? What was hiding in that strange box under your cloak, Brother? What did you find in that book?
The army now filled the valley. Ranks had been assembled, artillery placed, and weapons prepared. Several command posts dotted the field, including his brother’s ever-present command tent. It stood as his vantage point and command center. He would not leave the tent until he had to. What a coward! You never pick up your sword until you have no other choice. The last time you were this far north, you wouldn’t even stake your tent within a mile of Zylonus. Of course, if you had, I would be dead now, so I guess I should be grateful for your cowardice.
You’re setting your tent in the middle of the battlefield though. Hmm? You’re either overconfident or you have some treachery hidden in your plot. What dagger is concealed up your sleeve, Brother? I hope you’re not planning to rely on those old dragon bones again.
Every weapon in their possession was aimed at the vent high overhead on the volcano. What are they waiting for? Surely not those three children. What does he expect from three children? It’s overkill. Ah! I guess that’s not surprising. Could it be the creature? A dragon maybe!? Oh! How sweet that would be after what happened at Zylonus. If the elves could have only survived, we might have had a chance. Whatever he’s waiting for is going to come from that volcano somehow. Somehow. It must be the creature. Is he trying to capture it, I wonder?
A large detachment broke away from the set ranks and marched toward the mountain. They started up an old trail to the left of the cliff. They were a quarter way up when a boulder came from high overhead and crashed down the mountain, breaking away the carved out path.
Out of nowhere the army was attacked in a barrage of boulders and colorful fire. His vision went dark briefly, and he found himself standing among the men. Everyone was in a scramble to kill the five dragons that continuously dropped boulders and made low swipes from overhead. Some of them did survive!
Then a flare of light filled the valley. It indeed came from the cliff-side vent. A deep vibration accompanied the flow of light, as did a surge of heat. It swept the valley like a flood of fire. When the light faded, a shining figure was left standing in the cave’s maw. Next came the first line which he was able to audibly discern. The majestic voice was powerful, yet mild. It seemed to come from every direction at once and shook the entire land as though the planet itself was speaking, “I present before you Zarrys Vago, king of all the earth. Bow down before my steward.”
The scene exploded as if it was made of smoke. He now stood over the body of his brother. The king was dead, and his body lay in a mangled position. He was scratched and battered as if he had fallen from his horse, but none of the wounds were severe enough to be fatal. No signs of a sword or arrow. There was nothing to explain it; however, Tolucan was indeed dead. What happened to him?! Why is no one here tending to him?
He frantically turned, looking for answers, and found all eyes set on the cave of the great volcano. The mountain was different now. The cliff had collapsed into a long sloping pathway up to the vent. The clouds over the mountain had settled in around its icy crown. It was glowing like fire and crackled with dancing lightning. The valley was divided by a large rift of upturned earth. Soldiers stood on both sides. At the mountain’s base stood a group of several thousand. On his side of the valley, only double that number remained. The rest were strewn all over the valley dead. Out of a hundred thousand soldiers, less than fifteen thousand are left? Three measly legions? This can’t be the same valley. Can it? What’s going on?
He looked around, trying to figure out what had transpired, and found a man standing to his immediate right. He had not been there before. Where did you come from?
The man turned to face him after surveying the valley around them. He was of average height and rather scrawny. He had dark hair—a deep brown, if not black—and misty gray-green eyes. He was clothed only with a white robe. It was a strange robe; it did not possess the natural radiance belonging to pure whiteness. In fact it seemed to be absorbing any light that came near.
“Well, General?” the man asked as if he had expected him to have spoken by now. Then he gestured out over the valley. “What do you see?”
“I don’t know,” Prozon answered in confusion. “This can’t be real, can it? It must be a dream.”
“It is both,” the man replied simply. His voice was smooth and careful. “You are seeing reality in a dream. I’ve brought this vision to you so that I can prepare you.”
The man paused and gestured down to where Tolucan lay at their feet, “Because your brother failed me.”
“Failed you?” Prozon challenged. “Who are you to direct the actions of a king?”
“I am Shunul, God of the Earth,” was the man’s calm, solemn declaration.
“Shunul?!” Prozon challenged again, now humored. “How do you claim the title of our god? You look nothing like the god we worship.”
The expression that came in return was one of the deepest combinations of rage, mockery, and disgust Prozon had ever seen. “The worship of me through the use of idols was your choice, NOT MINE! Your ancestors brought that foolishness on themselves, and the kings carried it on. I am Shunul, God of the Earth! Now bow down and worship me the way you ought!”
The roar of Shunul’s voice, the sharpness of his command, and the displeasure in his expression scared Prozon, but they did not move him. The man’s face became something beyond venomous, and his left hand began to clench into a tight fist. The tighter his fist became, Prozon felt the earth rumble, heave, and shake under his feet. Then again, as the sky began to darken and thunder rippled the sky, audible to his deafened ears, Shunul commanded, “Bow down and worship me, or I will destroy you right now! I am your god, and I will not be dishonored.”
A bolt of lightning crashed down behind him, and Prozon threw himself down like a sack of potatoes at Shunul’s feet. Suddenly, everything went stone silent once again. When he finally opened his eyes and looked up, he found himself in an abyssal darkness. Out ahead of him, some ten feet or so, was a throne of black and gold. In that throne sat a very displeased Shunul. His eyes were filled with wrath, and his visage was far from any mark of pleasure. He looked down his nose on Prozon for several long seconds before he spoke.
“I did not bring you this vision for you to challenge me, General Prozon,” Shunul began, spitting out Prozon’s title as if it meant nothing. “I desire you to help me finish the work that your brother could not. Tolucan failed, and now the duty passes to your hands. In exchange I will give you great power and glory. Your kingdom will spread across the continent and across the seas.”
“But my brother was a liar,” Prozon disagreed. “The stories he used to start this war—they were all a lie! Shouldn’t we try to restore peace and put things back the way they were?”
“What if I told you they were not a lie, General?” Shunul asked quietly. “What if I told you that I showed your brother what no one else had ever seen before?”
“But he lied! I know he did! He murdered our parents and then tried to murder me.”
“Then why are you not dead after all these years of being so close to him? Why did he instate you as general over all his armies?”
“To keep me close. I pled for that position so I could stay close to him and Fiona.”
“Ah!” Shunul beamed as if he was leading Prozon to some great revelation. “And who inspired him to let you have that position which allowed you to stay so close to the throne and the woman who rightfully belonged to you?”
Prozon was at a loss and could not reply. He had always thought he had been the one crafty enough to barter his way back into the graces of his brother. He looked at Shunul with a furrowed brow, and the god smiled. “It was me, Prozon. I encouraged him to let you back in—to show forgiveness and love, instead of brutality.”
“The throne was promised to you, was it not?”
“So I have allowed your brother to carry the weight of war and blood, and you will carry the weight of glory—a prize you have proven worthy of.”
“So how am I supposed to get the throne back then?”
Shunul rolled his eyes and tipped his head back as if he was being forced to commune with a simpleton.
“Your brother is dead,” Shunul pronounced. “He has been defeated in battle by a sorcerer—an evil magician—belonging to a race of heathens who bring great mockery to my domain. I have allowed them to exist for a time, but they have broken my laws and now they must be swept off.
“Word will reach the castle shortly of your brother’s death. When it comes you will be there to claim your marriage rights to your sonless brother’s wife. You shall marry her quickly and establish yourself as king before the heathens arrive to claim the throne from you. That will make you the lawful king here. Then I will grant you great power in war so that you may finish the work of Tolucan and go on to exceed your brother in greatness and dominion. All the while I will be there to guide you in reestablishing peace, ruling all the land, and building up a kingdom of power and glory.”
He gestured for Prozon to rise as he stood and came forward. When Prozon heeded the silent order, he noticed that land had appeared at their feet again.
“Do you agree to my terms?” Shunul inquired. Then, as if to connect with Prozon on a level he understood, he extended a hand as one would to shake on an agreement and seal it as final.
Prozon reached for the hand with a smile, but then he hesitated. Am I really going to do this? My brother was an evil man. Surely no god would work through him, except to destroy him. But soon the countenance in Shunul’s face won him over, and he reached for his hand a second time only to recoil again. Is this another test? Is it right for me to touch a god? What will happen to me if I do?
Shunul caught the look in Prozon’s eyes and laughed. “It’s all right, Prozon. I will allow it.”
Regaining his confidence, Prozon seized Shunul’s hand with a deviant smile and acknowledged the agreement. When his fingers closed around the god’s hand, he paused. He felt nothing. There was a hand there clearly, yet he could feel nothing. It was as if he was shaking hands with air or some void apparition.
Again Shunul smiled. “Good.”
Then he faded away and vanished, taking the abyss with him and returning Prozon to his brother’s side. Now Tolucan’s body lay in a small wagon behind a driver and a team of horses. It was morning. The army had regrouped and formed into a meager set of ranks and were preparing to exit the war-torn valley.
Directly across from him, Prozon looked into the face of his brother’s murderer—a young man with white hair, white robes, an articulate diamond crown, and pointed ears. Pointed ears! He’s the one. A spark of thought burned the longer he looked at the young king’s face. It was familiar. I’ve seen him before. He looks like… Then he shook it off. No! It can’t be.
This was the one Tolucan had been hunting for years. This was the boy he, himself, had nearly caught only months ago. He could have had them in his grasp so easily, but he did not want them dead. He wanted peace. He regretted their having discovered the girl. Only to satiate the men into believing his false loyalty to Tolucan had he tortured her. He was going to let her live. He was going to let them all live, but then Nikoli destroyed their cover and the men charged off to find the cave without waiting for orders.
Nikoli’s foul up had almost cost him everything. It had left him in a position where if he did not act like Tolucan’s generals should, he would be marked as a traitor. That is why he had sent the messenger. Nikoli nearly killed the three. There was nothing Prozon could do to hold the men back in the camp. The camp was in a riot as soon as the fat soldier ran. Luckily for Prozon, the band who charged off without orders blew themselves up with dangerous amounts of powder. Only a few had survived; they had even had the audacity to claim dragons had attacked them in order to cover up their drunken stupidity. What fools!
But the massive death toll had given him reason to make camp again and wait for Tolucan instead of running off through the mountains. His logic had been that a bigger search party would have an easier time finding a needle in a haystack. So it made sense for them to wait. And waiting bought the three time to run.
Now the young man wore a crown, claiming to be king, and everyone present, including the soldiers, was bowing to him. They acknowledged him as their king, even though moments before, they would have spat in his face. What happened in that valley? I need to see what magic he used on those men. I need to see proof for all the rumors, or I cannot believe them.
Then an expression on the boy’s face hit him like a shot to the gut. I’ve seen him before! The image flashed across his mind clear as day. The young man had come disguised in human armor claiming to be a messenger from one of their search parties. And he—Prozon—had patted the youth on the shoulder and walked right past him. Then the boy had stolen the girl away from him, much to his secret pleasure. This was the same one who had pulled the wool over him that night. Prozon had butchered his own men to find the traitor among his own ranks when all along it had been the elf-boy himself. How did I not see it then? He didn’t act like a soldier. He didn’t speak like a soldier. He tricked me. I walked away from him instead of taking his report then and there. What was I doing? He had to have done something to make me overlook his little charade. He must have hypnotized me or something!
Prozon began cursing to himself and ranting as he realized the extent of his blindness. He moved toward the boy in an attempt to strike him. Shunul was right! Before he could swing, the young king turned to Tolucan’s body and spoke to the large soldier standing directly to his left. Prozon knew the man. Dagah? Not you too.
“Take his body back to the queen,” Zarrys instructed Prozon’s captain. “Give her my deepest regrets, but tell her nothing of what has occurred here. I will explain it myself when I arrive. See that he is buried and mourned for the way he deserves according to your laws and judgment. Tell the queen King Zarrys is coming and will arrive soon to claim the throne he has conquered.”
Zarrys? That was the boy’s name? Surely it couldn’t be Zarrys; Zarrys was… Wait! Zarrys the Second. The king preserved his own son! Of course! He looks just like his father! Why didn’t I notice that sooner?
Suddenly, Prozon felt dirty, and he stepped back as his mind spun. This was the son of a man whom he had considered a close friend for many years. This was the son of an ally and a king. This young man could have been his best friend had it not been for Tolucan’s lies. How could I ever kill him? It would mock my hands and dishonor my soul. No, Prozon! Remember, the lies weren’t lies. You heard it from Shunul himself. He must die.
He felt an object appear in his heavy hands. When he looked down, he found his brother’s crown dangling in his fingers. Then he heard Shunul’s voice for the last time before he was to wake, “The kingdom is yours now, Prozon.”
This excerpt was taken from The Elements and the Exodus by S. R. Ford.
Copyright 2013 S. R. Ford. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing.