Ithuriel: Inception (Chapter One)

Presenting original fantasy fiction from Robert Roach, this prose series features sword and soul hero Ithuriel in adventures placed in fantasy lands.

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"GET HIM!!" Queen Ayana screeches from the palace's parapet as she leans over the veranda's wall. "Your heads for his if Ithuriel isn't DEAD BY DAWN!!" continues as she vainly searches the garden's shadows for the fleeing warrior.

Eyes agog -- glaring with evil, Ayana turns back toward the throne room. She's breathing deeply & glows with maleficence. The group of elites doesn't know how to react. In their posh lifetimes, they've never experienced events as intense as the incidents they've experienced/participated in this evening.

As all the mercenaries, except a handful of her highest ranked officers, rush from the room & toward the garden, five of Ayana's senior-ranking soldiers stream in from the main entrance. They meet her at the ramp as the neo-ruler begins her descent -- again.

"Mistress Ayana--!" a lieutenant begins.

"QUEEN Ayana!" she corrects, as she puts her rapier away.

"One thousand pardons!" the merc grovels. "I've come with reports vis-à-vis the Civilian Council."

"Excellent, Elryx!" Ayana replies as she continues her descent toward the mirrors. "How has our plan to eliminate Aston's governmental leadership gone?"

"Better than expected," the lieutenant announces. "Of the 75 comprising the council, the 11 from the privileged families have been put on house arrest -- totally shut off from all contact. Full squads are guarding their residences & preventing any outside interaction. Well, Ryal's eldest son was able to slip through our pickets, but all other traitor elites are under arrest.

"Regarding the presumptuous lowlies that, in their egoistic arrogance, dared to assume positions of governance, 57 of the 64 have been liquidated."

"And the military?!" Ayana probes.

"Completely caught off guard!" Elryx reports. "About 70% of Kahnuri senior officers have been eliminated. Without this leadership, the military's rank & file won't have direction. At best, any counterattacks from the country's regular forces will be sporadic & uncoordinated."

"Excellent news!" Ayana gloats. "Nearly everything's going even better than expected! Except for that damned nuisance! I should've killed Ithuriel myself. I shouldn't have toyed with him when I could've just butchered him!

"AAAARGH!! What a foolish mistake! A silly oversight that...!"

The young ruler continues her rant until a sharp voice breaks through her mental fog. Quickly coming to her senses -- & quaking with fear, Ayana crosses from the room's upper deck -- near the veranda -- & descends the ramps to the staging area near the royal dais.

Very few in the room recognize the voice beckoning Ayana. Those that know who is speaking all blanch with terror & move as far away from the mirrors as subtlety will allow them.

Now on the lower landing, Ayana immediately moves toward the blank mirror. It's the last mirror on the right. Uana & her fellow retainer express fear-filled countenances as they continue to hold the transforming looking glass.

Uana is four years older than Ayana, so, in terms of age, they're peers. The servant has been Ayana's handmaid since the princess's birth. She is a slim, attractive woman, wearing a nice, but plain dress. Uana's thick, curly hair is cut short.

Servitude as a social status is one of the cultural tenets that Telamahn criticized. Despite this condition being deeply embedded in Kahnuri ethos, the late king made sizable strides to greatly weaken this practice. However, this tradition remains strong among certain families -- those closely aligned with the country's power structure. Across the board, such families' lineage reaches back centuries. Even with such customs relaxed & servitude by-&-large voluntary, adherence to this custom runs deep.

Uana's family has generationally served the royal family. Not doing so has never entered their minds. It's for this reason that Uana has always served Ayana.

As sounds from the search for Ithuriel filter into the throne room, clouds begin to billow in the formerly blank pane. A dark chamber, teeming with alchemic accoutrement, hazily takes shape in the looking glass. Then this haze begins to resolve into a human outline. Moments later, a hooded Black man's veiled visage fills the mirror.

"I'm here, Master Kabandha!" Ayana replies in a quivering voice. Her frightened, deferential bow is nearly scraping the marble floor.

"As you can see," the mystic hisses, "the continent-wide coup is going apace."

Ayana takes a moment to glance at the other five glass panes. More carnage from around Alk'bulaan's entirety is portrayed in the mirrors. In Mauri, King Rappar's children have tried to assassinate him. Unlike Ayana's attempt, Mauri's royal children have failed. Bahmakko, Mauri's capital, is fully aflame, as the "snapshots" being shown in the looking glass reveal.

In Djallon, Queen Regent Hassa VI is also murdered by a family member -- in this case the queen's daughter's handmaiden. Immediately after the assassination, this servant is secreted out of the city (& subsequently eliminated herself). There's upheaval in Aboojah, Djallon's capital, but far less than in Aston, Bahmakko & other main cities. Per the country's custom, the princess assumes her mother's title & becomes Queen Regent Hassa VII.

Ayana's closest ally in these rebellions has been Shangoh, Sandeh's regent-in-waiting. Evidently, Shangoh could wait no longer to ascend the throne. So he takes it.

There's violence throughout the regency & in its capital, W'Bondei. But, for Sandeh, this isn't abnormal. Since the country has long been the most authoritarian within The Nigritia, slipping back into despotism will most likely be quite easy.

The mirror showcasing Longwe, Nyanjarrah's capital, primarily exhibits military clashes & a civil war. Kabandha had initially contacted the country's imperial family, but they rebuffed his paranormal advances. The necromancer then infiltrated these royals' dreams to ascertain who might be susceptible to his overtures. This also failed. However, the sorcerer happens to persuade a cabal, made up of five generals & three minor wizards, to do his bidding & rebel against the regal family. The kingdom is split in two, ergo, this civil war.

Nahmbari's royal custom is to have an arranged marriage between respected nobles from northern & southern sections of the country. By so doing, these unions have consistently knit together these often-contentious regions. This has been their standard for almost a millennium. This custom among patrician families has reliably bound the nation together.

Tlokweng, Nahmbari's capital, is fully aflame. Twin cousins -- both of them 6th in line for the throne -- have sided with Kabandha. By eliminating the heirs ahead of them, the evil twins aim to take the realm's control. They fail. The twins' revolt is being put down internally. Rather than lose their revolt & being taken, the two have chosen to burn down the palace, apparently killing everyone in the king's line. All of Nahmbari's citizens are aware that this socio-political uncertainty will definitely lead to a catastrophic fate.

Figuratively & literally, the continent is ablaze. And this conflagration is meant to better enable Kabandha to forward his personal, nefarious plans.

"Across Alk'bulaan, the coups are going well," Kabandha growls. "But, as I told all of you would-be rulers when I necromantically approached you, Kahnuri is the key. The lynchpin. Your principal adversaries -- Tzumé & his son, Ithuriel -- are the only people with an outside chance of undoing this pan-Alk'bulaan revolution.

"And for some reason, my astral preceptors can't sense them. Very, very strange. Give me a favorable update, former princess!"

"Tzumé is dead, master," Ayana hastily answers in a voice an octave higher than usual. "We control all of Aston's levers of power.

"At least 68 of the Council's 75 councilors are dead or under house arrest. The rest of the city's power structure is in disarray. Since we anticipated that the army would uniformly back my father, we've liquidated most senior officers. Without this leadership, even the most loyal soldiers won't have orders to follow.

"And reports from around the country -- MY country -- are equally promising. Accounts from Kahnuri's main metropolises have been overwhelmingly positive. Those regions' governors are either dead or on the run. All cities, towns or villages now lack local leadership. We are poised to fill these voids with our puppets," Ayana concludes.

Kabandha's shadowed expression doesn't lighten at this information. In fact, the warlock's shadowed scowl deepens & darkens. 

Ithuriel story elements are the sole property of Robert Roach/Hometown Productions ©2020

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Words and illustrations by Robert Roach