A boy and a girl stood in a throne room, talking. When one fell silent, the other spoke in their place. They were twins, and they were similar enough that one could pick up exactly where the other left off.
Occasionally, they would be asked a question and one would falter until the other came up with an answer. None of their answers were wrong, but some created more questions. Eventually though, the questions ceased. The twins fell silent, and nervously regarded the hunched figure in the chair in front of them.
“Hm. Hmm. Fascinating. And is that the entirety of your world?”
On first glance it could have been any dignified older man that addressed the twins. While this man’s clothing was finely woven and inlaid with artistic designs embroidered in gold, any nobleman might claim such finery. Indeed, this man’s clothing was worn thin and bore the faintest signs of ancient stains; a sure sign that while his attire was well cared for, his servants lacked the money to replace his wardrobe.
And while the man was old, he wasn’t so old as to be notable in that sense either. He was simply an older man in his forties, with the first streaks of gray beginning to invade his mane of red-gold hair. It could also be said that his remarkable physique and muscled body was unusual, but then, many warriors of his age were equally well-toned.
However, a few definite things stood out that made this man unique. The first was where he sat.
He sat in a throne room, facing the boy and the girl as they stood at attention before him. The great, cavernous ceiling made the room feel even larger than it was, and it was a room built to hold thousands. But at this time, the throne room was empty, and time and decay had cracked the marble flooring. Only a few of the many windows were drawn, so that the throne room was only illuminated in places by faint shafts of light.
This is the place where the man sat, and the gigantic golden throne was clearly an invitation to any who entered the room. But he did not sit on the throne. Rather, he sat in a smaller chair across the room, facing the throne.
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.
The second unusual aspect about him was that underneath his gilded robes he wore chainmail. The metallic links caught the sparse light as he shifted in his seat, but the man seemed oblivious to the heavy armor. When he moved it was with swift clarity, as if he did not even notice the added burden on his body.
The last thing that was notable about this man was that he was a king.
“Magnificent. Truly, magnificent.”
The king stood up from his chair in a sudden move, knocking it back. 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.
“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.
“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? 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.”
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.
“The prospect of you two being the first 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.
The twins glanced at each other nervously, 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 twin’s 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.
“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.”
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?”
“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. 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, even they have not looked up to the twin moons in the sky and dared to land on them. Land on them!”
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, at least compared to the citizens of this world. 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. But all of that was dust compared to the reality of standing before the king. His laughter beat down upon them like a physical thing until it stopped.
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. Now he seemed to smolder on his throne, and when he stood up, he was a different man.
He was a King.
“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 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.
The twins watched him with interest. For a second as he entered, the man called Orthenon had glanced hopefully towards the throne. But when he’d seen his king standing next to the smaller chair his head had bowed. He approached his king and bowed perfunctorily.
“You summoned me, lord?”
The King nodded. 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 answered without looking directly at his king.
“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.
“The Emperor of the Sands leads his armies from the east even now! The other nations break their armies upon his forces as he burns and pillages every village in his way. To the south, the Minos stir and war drums can be heard beating from their shores. Rumors of war spread from the northern continents, and our people starve in the streets! 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. The King stepped forwards and placed a hand on his shoulder. And the fire spread from one man to the other.
“Rejoice, my steward. I have returned. I sit upon my throne at last.”
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 lord—”
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 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 twins gaped as the wood splinters rained down. The King 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. The weight of 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.
“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 has fled for greener lands, and we teeter on the precipice.”
Orthenon stared at his king. The twins stared at the King 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.
“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.”
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.”
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. 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.”
“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 decade-long slumber! Let every hand grab sword and axe! Stand, all those who still remember my name! Here me and obey! 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. His 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.
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, other 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 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 King pointed at the twins.
“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, and then the girl, and shook his head.
“Hah! It matters not what you wish. Your lives belong to me.”
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 a King.”
He raised one hand and his voice became thunder once more. It echoed out across the city, and across a nation.
“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 spew forth. I care not. I am a King, and all those who would follow me are my people. I will not be stopped. The world is mine!”
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.
“The King of Destruction, Flos, has returned!”