Evening fell across the world at the same time. It was already dark in Liscor in an inn where a young woman was knocking on a table. That was because the mountains that sheltered her inn were obscuring the fading light. But far south and to the west, upon another continent, another land—the dry air was turning orange slower, blooming crimson like a great flower.
Sand whipped from the distant desert and blew across a city in ruins. A silent place. Not quiet, for men and women of both skin and cloth-flesh did live and work. Even flying folk with features and feathers like birds—but the city was still broken.
It resembled a crown, towers reaching high above circular walls. Once, this crown had been unbroken; now, two towers had fallen to decay.
It was decay that ate this city to pieces. The streets, once painted with glorious colors, filled with visitors, supplicants, and treasures from a thousand lands, were torn up. Glass windows were long since broken—or sold.
Everywhere was echoes. If you looked up, there lay one of the largest palaces upon a hill, a structure of mighty stone—but like everything else, it, too, had waned. Inside, there were no pieces of art; the treasury was shadowed, and year by year, the servants who remained looked older and thinner, despite the best efforts of the last loyal servant to keep everyone fed.
It was not food nor even the fallen fortunes that kept this city, this palace so quiet and still. It was like a slumber, a dark, deep dream had fallen across this remnant of a kingdom. Their heart had stopped beating, so they waited.
Waited—and they had been waiting for decades. They knew now, all of the ones who lived here, that there might be no waking. The rest of the King’s Seven were gone; the old kingdom had fallen to pieces and been gobbled up by other powers.
Now, they were allowed to live and stumbled through their days here despite their many enemies across the world. Because—no one dared march an army through the crumbling gates. Despite the few [Soldiers] left, the impoverished streets and folk—
No one wanted to wake this place up. Or rather, wake the true sleeper.
He sat in his throne room, a man with hair flowing long and unkempt. Despite the years that had added onto themselves, taking away his youth, he still had almost no grey in the red-gold hair that hung about his body. His clothes were still as rich as they had ever been, but the silk had worn fine, and cunning thread had tried to disguise tears and atrophy.
Even magic seemed to have waned around him. This man sat thinner than he had ever been. And he had been a great warrior. He still had elements of that—but he was frail, in spirit and in body, as one who had sat in this chair for years.
A plain chair, padded and backed with some ornate wood—but not a chair for him. It sat in a gigantic throne room, across ancient marble laid generations before his. And on the far wall was a throne meant for him. He had taken it from a foe in ages past, and the gold sparkled brighter with magic. The back of that throne was less comfortable than the chair, yet somehow, the man seemed most miserable where he sat below.
The only thing not tarnished or worn was his crown. A circlet of gold shaped into the very sigil of this nation. It was like a leaf of gold, sprouting from inhospitable desert, surrounded by stars.
But for that—and his very striking appearance—he might have been any man sitting there. For there was no spark in those eyes as green as this continent was not. They should have danced with passion, mirth and joy and fury.
Instead, they were empty. For twenty-two years, it seemed like those eyes were pieces of glass that fixed upon objects and people with no real meaning or purpose. Searching, perhaps.
Slumbering, they called him. Slumbering…and let him sleep. Let him die there. No one disturb him, lest he wake.
That was how it had been for so long that no one had given any thought to this place, except as an entry in history. A calamity checked and now forgotten. The people of the city, the servants, the last protector who despaired even as he kept his vigil—all had grown used to this quiet despair.
Except that yesterday, something had happened. Something so unique that it had sent servants running through the palace and [Soldiers] dashing to defend the man in this room.
Assassins. That was what the people heard, and it made them worry. It made some furious—and remember blades and wrath. An [Assassin] would be the end of all—but this place was not so broken yet, not so worn that one could kill that man so easily.
Nor would the true perpetrators long live thereafter, even if a great nation had ordered it.
…But it was not assassins after all. It had been a mistake. What, exactly, the servants did not say, nor did the [Soldiers] understand. So the city murmured then fell silent. Waiting and waiting…but what they did not know was that the intruders were still there.
In that very throne room, in fact. They were alone, and the [Soldiers] at the doors occasionally glanced in to make sure they had no weapons—not that they were old or canny enough to bear them. Even the great servant, the steward, was not allowed within the throne room, to his anger. He had stormed off, but he had obeyed because it was a rare order.
The man in that chair had given it, so the two children were allowed to stay.
Boy and girl. The [Soldiers] and the steward might have objected—but the man with red-gold hair was not so weak as to be done in by two child-assassins, even if they came from Germina. Nor did these two have the look.
They were not warriors. Their clothing, even their demeanors were soft. Terrified, in fact. They had appeared in a flash of light and sound and quailed because they might be killed—now, spared, they were talking.
A young man and woman. Boy and girl in demeanor, but not age. They were both…sixteen years old. Neither one had the eyes of an adult having worked or fought already as men and women. They had strange dress, too colorful and beautiful to be cheap, but without an inch of magic or more marvelous thread.
Their accents were also—strange. They used strange words and stared about as if everything were new and odd. A common sword made their eyes pop, and a Yellat was the strangest food in the world. Perhaps they were Terandrian? No…stranger still.
But only the man in the throne room understood that. He listened as the two spoke, and his dreamy eyes slowly focused on one or the other.
A boy and a girl. Twins. They looked like each other, reflected, so similar that when one fell silent, the other spoke in their place. They were mystified as to how they had come here.
It also made the man in the chair curious. He would break into their explanations now and then. The boy would answer, or the girl, or both falter until one had a reply.
None of their answers were wrong, but some created more questions. An incomprehensible tangle of questions and answers because nothing made sense.
Yet these were no lies, the man with the crown knew. He could tell, even without the glowing crystal showing the truth of every statement. It just made their answers more confusing.
He sat there, hunched, and whispered in a low voice hoarse from lack of use.
“Hm. And is that the entirety of your world?”
He sat like a man waiting for something. And though his posture was languid and relaxed, a spark shone within the depths of his emerald eyes.
It was the first spark of genuine curiosity in a long time. The boy hesitated, and the girl nodded. The man shifted slightly, and his royal clothes moved, revealing something.
The flash of steel. But rather than a blade—the boy stared at the links of fine chainmail underneath the cloth.
The man was wearing armor despite sitting there. He wore the heavy steel like a second skin, as if he would have felt bare or uncomfortable without. When he stood, it was with swift clarity, as if he didn’t even notice the added weight.
If the Great Companies of Baleros could have seen him now, or the Archmages of Wistram, or the Hundred Kings and Queens of Terandria—they would have recognized a face from many burnt and defaced paintings, illustrations in history books, and descriptions of a younger man, now aged.
Yet in this moment, all their laughter and reminiscing of his fallen glories would have ceased. If they could have seen him, the look on his face would have scared them terribly. For the glass stare of a vacant figure was gone.
In its place was a burning hunger. A curiosity—an insatiable desire. The man’s head slowly rose, and the hair too long unsheared moved as he gazed up.
The ceiling of his throne room had gone to dust, despite the best efforts of the cleaners. His city below lacked color, and the deserts had reclaimed lush lands once filled with noise and light.
He had seen this same view for decades in grief and slumber. Now—the man looked out and saw something else.
Evening was falling across his continent, Chandrar. He gazed into the distance where the greatest desert in the world lay, and he had seen it. He had seen the buried city to the south, glimpsed peaks of every nation on the land upon which he stood.
Even those memories could not stir the eyes that had been emptied of tears and passion. Now, though—the man caught his breath. His great chest rose slowly as he saw something the two children could not.
But they had brought it. It was a vision. A vision of a world hanging in space. Space—a world shining at night with the lights of a thousand artificial suns. Green and blue and towering buildings of steel and glass. Airplanes soaring through skies with no magic but another kind of force of lightning and wit.
The vision held him there, breathless, and those eyes opened wide. Wide. Another notable thing about the man was that when he turned, his tanned skin had a hundred ancient scars. His teeth were white as he bared them, and when he smiled, the air felt full of life, like a heart suddenly skipping a beat. The two twins gazed at him, amazed at the change in the figure.
When they had first tumbled into this place and seen him sitting there, so still, head bowed, shoulders hunched, they’d feared he was dead or oblivious to all. But now he stood.
The last thing that was notable about this man was that he was a king.
“Magnificent. Truly, magnificent.”
He exhaled and then strode away from the windows and balcony. The twins flinched, but the king made no move towards them. He strode about the great throne room, his long steps a flurry of movement in the silent emptiness.
“A world unlike this one, full of miracles such as I have never dreamed…? Inconceivable. And yet—you tell the truth.”
The king spun towards the twins, and they jumped as one. He eyed the flashing stone, but his gaze was on their faces. He leaned over, inspecting their eyes and watching them—and he did know people. Again, the king shook his head.
“You tell the truth. I know it. Not just because of a Skill, but because it is too incredible not to be the truth. I could believe a world ruled by magic, but a world ruled by—machines? A place where magic is myth and technology has advanced to the point where men fly for business and convenience? That cannot be a fairy tale.”
He swept past the two again, this time towards the throne. The king put one foot on the dais and then shook his head. It wasn’t time. Once again, he stalked around the room, too impatient to hold still. His body screamed protest because it was not used to action. But his mind—his heart was shouting louder. Then he spun back and pointed at the girl, who flinched again. But he was not angry.
“And when you did lie—when you dared to conceal the truth—it was to lie about the strength of your armies! The sheer power of a single weapon in your world that could shatter armor like paper and lay waste to even the strongest walls—that is the might of the world you claim exists beyond this one! Where I would be naught but a primitive beast from a forgotten era.”
He spread his arms as he came to a stop before the boy and the girl. They looked up at him fearfully. Not because he had been violent, but because he was a king to be feared or exalted—or both.
“So. What should I do with two strangers from another world? What would any man do? The thoughtless rulers who seek to protect their ways of life? Perhaps kill you.”
They flinched at that. The girl moved protectively in front of the boy. The king’s lips twitched.
“Do not fear, young lady. I am no ordinary man, ruled by his flaws. I am a king, and my flaws are a lesser man’s strengths. No; I believe I should keep you two safe. You have more knowledge, I am sure, and you may be key to finding more of your kind. Nor do I fear your world. Not at all.”
The two twins looked up at the king nervously. They paused, and then the girl asked a question. The king nodded as he stroked his beard. It was too long, and he looked down at it, mystified, as if wondering how it had come to his chin without him noticing. He went on, feeling for his side, but it hung empty.
“The prospect of you two being the first and only is possible. But the odds that more of you strangers have come to this planet is altogether more likely. Perhaps a portal is open and the armies of this other planet pour through already to sweep through nations like a reaper’s scythe.”
The thought of such devastation made the king smile. Smile and his eyes twinkle at odds with his words and the vision he saw.
By now, the twins were exchanging looks of fear, because it was clear they stood before a madman, but the king only laughed. He spread his arms wide as he faced them.
“You do not understand. How could you? But think, for a moment, as a king would. Think as I would. Come.”
With one word, the King moved the twins’ unwilling feet. He strode over to one side of the room and yanked open a set of double doors. The red light of a fading sun blinded the two for a moment, but the King strode out onto the balcony.
He gestured out across his balcony at the crumbling city below. People went to work in the streets, hauling poor harvests of Yellats to stalls that contained only cheap goods. They worked, never looking up at the palace and that balcony because they did not expect to see anyone there.
If they had—they would have seen that man, aged, showing the two children that faded sea of roofs and streets. They could not see the parades of armies, the cheering crowds he could still hear, the seven champions gathering in laughter and glory. He spread his arms as if showing them that past, and it was at odds with the reality he knew lay before him. The irony did not escape him, so his smile was bitter.
“Behold my empire. Once, each street was packed with people from every nation. Every storefront held goods brought from countless thousands of leagues away, and messengers sped to every corner of my expanding kingdom. By day and night my armies marched forth, and the world trembled to hear the clash of blades and my name on the lips of men.”
The twins looked out at the city, but couldn’t imagine the sight the king described. All they saw were crumbling bricks and ragged people walking without life. The gutters ran with filth, and what food was on display in the shops was rotten or rotting. The king gazed down upon his city and shook his head.
“Once. But I abandoned my dreams of conquest and let the nation I had built collapse around me. And why? Because my vision was too small and my goal too achievable. I had swept through a continent and brought low countless kingdoms and yet—it was an edifice of the moment, a paltry creation born of opportunity and luck. It was worthless. One moment of grief brought it tumbling down. I was unworthy of it, for all to spring up around me.”
The twins stared at the dying city below them. They shuddered as they saw the malnourished faces of the people below. The king glanced down at the two.
“You pity them?”
Both nodded, unguarded. Then they flinched, because they understood something of monarchs and knew it might be unwise to tell it to this man’s face. But he just nodded sadly as his smile became guilty. He gazed down, leaning on the balcony.
“Well and good. They deserve a better ruler than I. In my regret and self-indulgent misery, I have failed my subjects. But the fire in my soul had long been extinguished. I could barely stand. Until this day.”
He swept back into the throne room. The twins ran after him, drawn in his wake like minnows in the tide. The king ascended the dais of his throne two steps at a time and stood, looking down at the two twins. He seemed larger all of a sudden, and this was a man already commanding by physical presence alone.
“Once, my name echoed throughout the world! My deeds were spoken of in awe! And yet you have come here—come here, to the heart of my fading kingdom—to tell me that a greater world exists than I had ever dreamed?”
His voice thundered through the throne room. The twins gripped each other in mortal fear. The king pointed at them.
“And to be told that all I had accomplished in life—all the glories that empires dare to claim as their proud history—to be told that is nothing compared to the wonders of your world. Is that not intolerable? Yet, for all the strength of my armies, we cannot match a single—bomb. And though my [Mages] could labor a thousand years, they could not fly up to the twin moons in the sky and dare to land on them. Worse though…they never even dreamed of it. Land on the moons!”
He raised his arms and roared with laughter. The cavernous room echoed with the thunder of his voice.
“What a jest! What a challenge the heavens have sent me!”
The boy and the girl held each other. They had seen many things in life compared to the citizens of this world, or so they claimed. They had seen men and women flying, they had looked upon their world as a small orb of blue and green, they had witnessed armies marching on television screens and men walking upon the moon.
They had told him this proudly. Proudly and nervously, as if trying not to frighten him. They could not see how enraging their words were. Not the glory of it, but the caution.
As if he had not seen a woman fly through the air like a bolt of lightning. As if he could not order a spell cast and gaze across the world. Their world was a marvelous mystery they hailed from, and they were right to be proud of it.
—But they could not boast forever before him, the reality of that king. He beheld their home, if not fully, then in their stories of another planet where one species alone ruled. They told him of nations far more advanced and mighty than his.
And he? He laughed. The King threw back his head, and the [Soldiers] started from their posts. The laughter ran down the hallways, and a servant looked up at a sound she thought was a dream. The man backed up, stumbling up the steps of the dais, and he leaned on a golden armrest of his throne for support.
His laughter beat down upon the two twins like a physical thing. He laughed at their world, not mocking—but like a man who had never seen more than a creek suddenly beholding an ocean blown by a storm. Like a man who, at the edge of the sea where it met the shore of his dry continent, found two children who told him it was greater than the desert he called his home. With conviction, pointing across that wide, green-blue expanse all without having walked a mile of the journey of countless leagues that had borne him to this place.
The laughter. The passion. It was like a spark growing on dry grass. The [Soldiers] had heard it. So too had the servants.
The [Steward] had felt it. But he had dreamed so often that he came back from training in private, still angry—but drawn to the smoke in the palace. And the king?
He stood there, panting with his hilarity—and realized he was standing against the throne. He looked down at the chair and hesitated. Then—
As if his legs had grown tired from standing this short while. As if the throne drew him down. As if the weight of that circlet suddenly grew too heavy, and his conscience bloomed with water long lost from this land.
All at once, the king sat down on his throne. In a moment, his mirth was gone, and the insane energy that had filled him had been replaced. The twins did not understand the meaning—not quite—but they sensed it.
The air changed. One second, the man was but a man, arrogant and passionate, but not quite himself. Not quite real. Then he sat—and something filled the throne room.
It passed through the hallways, enveloped the palace, and spread across the city. Slowly, but growing second by second. A presence, a choice made. The figure with red-gold hair now seemed to smolder on his throne, and when he stood up again, he was a different man.
He was a [King]. He spread his arms and woke. Tears shone in his eyes. Tears, for it was done. He stood and stretched, and decades fell off him slowly. When he called out, his voice was fuller, surer, and he pointed down at the two children, who only began to realize what they’d done now.
“Come, then. Let us wake this sleeping nation and bring death and glory to this hollow world once more!”
He walked down from the dais and began striding across the throne room towards the double doors. The twins followed him, not daring to be left behind. The [King] called out.
The King bellowed. He stopped beside the smaller chair and planted one foot on it.
“Orthenon! My [Steward]! Come to me!”
For a second, all was silence. And then the double doors opened, and a man entered the room. He was a tall, gaunt man who walked with unnatural grace across the marble floor. His hair was black and grey, for he too had aged, and he carried a long, slightly curved sword at one hip.
He wore black, almost like a servant of another time, but he too wore armor beneath cloth. What separated the two was that if the [King] was a man of passion, Orthenon’s own passions and personality were like a swinging blade. Precise—but the years had left rust on him as well.
These strange feelings in his chest, the two twins, and the familiar orders from that man had left him—unsettled. Angry. When he entered the throne room now, even his sure stride was slow—
But he did not see what he wanted. What he saw was the [King], foot upon that chair. While that pose should have tipped him off, he had missed the moment the man sat down on the throne.
That feeling was filling the air, but Orthenon’s own grief and wait were too long. All he saw was the chair, not the throne. So when he bowed, it was low, but with a cold, tired anger of an exhausted man waiting with arm raised, clinging to a cliff’s edge. Waiting, hoping, for the day that might never come.
That was all contained in his not-quite-glare as he approached his king.
“You summoned me, Lord?”
Lord. It was an insult borne of a despairing man. The [King] nodded; he saw it. Yet now, his eyes were dancing with anticipation. He was still smoldering from the inside, and the fire was growing, but his steward didn’t see it. Not yet.
“Tell me, Orthenon. What is the state of my kingdom?”
The man made a bitter face. He had heard this question before, and again, he missed the tone. He answered, glancing at the two twins, his voice growing rough with impatience and frustration.
“As I have told you time and again, sire, we are dying. This nation is crumbling away. Our enemies take our land, your vassals bend knee to foreign powers, and we cannot even feed our youngest.”
The [King] nodded. His eyes seemed to burn in the half-light. If Orthenon would look up—but he didn’t. The [Steward] continued talking, his voice slowly rising with passion as he listed the frustrations of years.
“Better nations have risen in the ashes. The Emperor of the Sands leads his armies across the deserts even now! The other nations break their armies upon his forces as he rises in the west. Nerrhavia sits fat and indolent to the south, and Medain pushes ever southwards against Jecrass and Belchan. While our people starve, Germina’s agents flit about, and the Quarass and Hellios test our borders. I have told you this time and time again, Lord! If you will not take the throne, why do you ask it of me?”
“Because I am your [King].”
Orthenon looked up. His look of rage changed to uncertainty, and his balled, gloved hand, almost curled as if to strike—suddenly became limp with disbelief.
Then he saw it. Two green eyes, roaring with a younger man’s passion. Burning—in a face too old but a heart too young.
Twenty-two years. It had aged the [King]—and not at all at the same time. He had been a prisoner here, a slumbering man of his own making, so it was a younger man mixed with an older one who stared down at the [Steward].
In that moment—Orthenon knew. The [King] stepped forwards and placed a hand on his shoulder. Just that. It trembled as his most loyal vassal looked into his eyes, and the king’s own shone with tears. And the fire spread from one man to the other.
“Rejoice, my steward. I have returned. I sit upon my throne at last.”
That was all the king whispered. For a moment, the gaunt man gaped. Then his eyes filled with tears. He clasped his King’s hand, and the two embraced for a moment.
“I had hoped—we have waited so long, Your Majesty—”
The [King] patted Orthenon gently as the man choked on his words. But in seconds, he had mastered his weeping and bowed low to the ground, one leg extended forwards as the other swept back. One hand on his chest as the other extended outwards. It was a different gesture than the stiff bow he had given earlier. The bow one gave to a ruler.
The [King] nodded in approval. He lifted his foot off the chair and picked it up with one hand.
“Never again. You have my word.”
With a sudden move, the King hurled the chair. It flew through the air across the room and shattered on the far wall, fifty feet away. The throw was so powerful the wood pulped and the old frame became a hail of splinters. The twins gaped as wood rained down. The man exhaled, nodded, and turned back towards his steward.
“Now then. Report, Orthenon. Tell me of my kingdom once more.”
Orthenon spread his hands out as he faced his king. His expression was conflicted as he spoke. Starvation and the pain of years weighed him down, and yet a fire was stirring in his eyes. He did not look as he had a few moments ago—a broken, exhausted man.
Something was filling him up. Now—the [Steward] felt lighter, and his own back straightened, and when his eyes flickered, truly thinking, not complaining or watching stone break and age—
—They were the eyes of a man who had seen nations burn. Who had led armies. Who stood behind the [King], at his side, and had driven armies of legend into the sea. Even so, his words were tinged with regret. Regret—and with a rising passion for what he knew would come.
“How can I report upon chaos, sire? I could list a thousand dire issues and still have a thousand more left unspoken. The kingdom is failing. Our treasury is empty, our people are starving, our crops have failed, our animals are dead, and our armories full of rust and decay. Every decent soldier save a loyal few have fled for greener lands, and we teeter on the precipice.”
Orthenon stared at his king. The twins stared at the red-haired man too. They gaped at him as if he’d gone mad. But that too was being part of a [King], and he was used to their incomprehension. Slowly, the ruler tapped his palm with his other hand.
“We have never fallen so far before. My kingdom and I have sunk to our lowest. How wonderful. It shall make the coming days, weeks, and years all the greater. I repent it. I repent all I have done—but if there is one thing to take, Orthenon—let it be that when we amend these wrongs, let the first sip of water be sweeter, the first horn call the most passionate that all those who have waited have ever heard. I regret it—but rejoice in that, I beg you.”
The twins didn’t understand. But the embers began to burn, and Orthenon’s eyes flashed. The King looked out towards the balcony.
“What of those loyal to me? What of my vassals, those I chose to lead in my absence? Have they abandoned me as well?”
“Not abandoned, my king. But they were forced to bow or be broken by other nations. Even now, foreign armies hold your lands and impose their laws upon your people. From Sottheim to Tiqr—they are checked, suppressed, even if they would rejoice at hearing your voice.”
The [King] nodded. He swept towards his throne, and now the fire in him was fully lit. As he passed by the twins, they shivered uncontrollably. What was happening? The old man they had first met was gone, and in his place something fierce threatened to burn down the entire castle. The King was far larger than his mortal shell. Even his clothing seemed to be brighter than before.
“Send word to my vassals closest to me. Tell them they have three—no, two days to dispose of the worthless dogs that would grind their pride to dust. They will rejoin me here with as many warriors and youths of worth as they can muster. Then send word—covertly—to those further abroad.”
“I am not sure they would believe it is you, sire. And it has been so long—some might turn away.”
The [King] stood by his throne. He pointed down at Orthenon.
“Then tell them this: I await them. And I shall raise my banners and set each place at my table myself. Until they have gathered here, I shall not rest upon this throne. But let the kingdom know and the world hear! I have returned!”
Orthenon touched a trembling fist to his breast. His eyes were blurred with tears, but he didn’t look away from his king for a second.
This time, the King’s voice was a roar. He shouted again, and it was thunder. It echoed through the throne room, out the double doors, and reverberated through the entire city. The twins thought they felt the ground trembling.
“Let this nation wake from its two-decade-long slumber! Let every hand grab sword and axe! Stand, all those who still remember my name! Hear me and obey! Reim, hear your [King]. Rise!”
The last word shook the air. The twins leapt forwards and then stopped. They didn’t know what they were doing, only that they had to move. The [King]’s voice seized something inside of them and struck sparks in their very souls.
Orthenon raced out of the room. The twins heard him shouting wildly, and then it was as if wildfire fueled by madness consumed the castle. The steward’s shouting was joined by another man shouting—not in panic or fury, but with joy. It was quickly joined by more voices, men and women crying out, and the pounding of footsteps.
The [Soldiers] and [Servants] had known—but like Orthenon, they hadn’t believed. They had begun to gather outside of the throne room, hoping, praying—if only they had known what prayers were.
But then the double doors had burst open and the [Steward] had come out, running and shouting the news. That dignified man, racing forwards like a boy?
They knew the moment they saw him standing there, laughing and shouting. Then they were running, following Orthenon, in a huge throng from every door in the palace, throwing windows open to scream the news.
And everyone who heard it, man or woman, flying bird-folk—they looked up. They felt the presence in the air, and then they were turning and screaming the news across the land.
From the castle, the commotion grew and spread into the city. Open-mouthed, the twins watched as a man ran into the street, screaming and shouting wildly. The people he passed looked up, and it was as if they caught the same wild passion from him. Some fell to their knees, others wailed or shouted, and more began running throughout the city or out the gates towards other villages.
Not a single person who heard the wild shouting was spared. The fire raged and spread to every soul in the kingdom. A dull roar of sound rose from the city and every part of the castle. It was deafening, wild; rejoicing mixed with relief and sadness and hope.
It was the sound of a city coming back to life. The din was so great, it reached across the kingdom in hours. From there, it spread to disbelieving ears, people who refused to hear the truth—but the echoes froze the hearts of the [King]’s enemies. It began to ring across the entire world.
The [King] strode out onto his balcony, and the people shouted, and the sound grew louder as they saw his face. He raised one hand, and the twins were nearly deafened by the noise.
He turned towards them. The light was fading, and the sun had nearly set. But the King glowed, and it may have been a trick of the lights or their imaginations, but the twins could swear the light formed a halo above his head. Or…not a halo.
The man pointed at the twins, still surrounded by an aura of his very class.
“I have much to do. But you two. I will have you accompany me. You shall be my personal attendants. Bodyguards? Yes, bodyguards. I will properly train you to your role in the coming days.”
The twins gaped. They began to protest, but the King laughed. He listened to the boy speak, then the girl, and shook his head.
“Hah! It matters not what you wish. Your lives belong with me. You have awoken me—and for better or worse, our destinies are joined.”
He meshed his fingers together, looking so amused. For they did not know what they’d done, not truly. Again, they argued, but their words trailed off as they stood before the king. He looked down at them, surrounded by the dying glow of a sun and lit by an inner fire.
“These things you speak of. Freedom…? Liberty? Justice? Pah. They are not yours by right. If you would claim yourself, take arms against me. For I hold all these things.”
He gestured towards the city stirring into life.
“Know this: wheresoever I walk and so far as my reach extends, I claim this world and yours as my own. So long as you are within my grasp, I shall rule you. For I am…”
He hesitated. The man raised one hand, and the voices became thunder once more. It echoed out across the city and across a nation. He listened to the sound and murmured.
“Let the world take arms against me. Let the peoples of every race march upon my people, and let the earth itself open and the pits of hell and the Demons of Rhir spew forth. I care not. I welcome the coming strife! I am a king, and all those who would follow me are my people. I will not be stopped. The world is mine! Both worlds!”
The King spread his arms wide and laughed. The fire left the city and raced out across the countryside, spreading from person to person, bringing with it a single message. It echoed from every hill, in every street, and every heart. He shouted it from his crumbling castle at the heavens, and the word of it spread to every corner of the world.
“I am Flos Reimarch, The King of Destruction. Let the world know I have returned!”