Ere the Kingdoms Rise and Fall
Footsteps echoed across the hall as a blue Acara, clad in finery, raced to the throne. "My lord!"
Upon the throne sat a regal desert Hissi, wearing the Royal Crown, and soft golden robes that designated him as King. "What do you want, Meptah?" inquired the Hissi in a deep but bored voice.
Meptah bowed before his liege, shaking slightly with worry. He knew that King Nekhmet did not wish to be bothered at this time of day, just after his meal. But this was of utmost importance.
"There is a prophetess in the Pylon Court, my lord, and she speaks of strange things about you. We had the guards restrain her -"
Nekhmet barked with laughter. "During my lifetime, I have seen prophetesses utter doom and desolation upon this blessed kingdom. This is no different. Get out of my sight."
Meptah shook his head wildly. "No, no, no, my lord, this is different! Please, hear her out, for the sake of the kingdom!" His blood raced when he heard the prophetess as she spoke while the Royal Guards took her away. She came at noon, when the sun's glare was at its fiercest. Perhaps she was half-baked as she called out threats that chilled the blood of those who heard. In the end it was Meptah, the vizier, who eventually decided to let the guards take her to the dungeons where no longer could her words disturb the populace so. But it was when she spoke to him in person; Meptah realized that this was more important than he originally thought.
King Nekhmet grumbled for a few moments, as if deciding whether to entertain his vizier's request of allowing the prophetess to enter his sight, or to simply fling her into the sands. Finally, he waved a wing. "Bring her in, lets see what terrors I will hear today."
Meptah bowed briskly and rushed to get the guards. It took a few moments, and soon, before Nekhmet stood a wiry looking xweetok, her eyes glazed with madness, wearing dirty, torn purple robes that probably looked quite magnificent in the past. "What is your name?" Nekhmet asked the urchin commandingly.
She looked up and whispered one word: "Mazun." Nekhmet frowned, displeased with the lack of obeisance and royal courtesy as befit him.
"Tell him what you have told us," Meptah said softly.
Mazun shook her head and began to draw a circle using charcoal from a hidden pocket. Meptah's first thought was one of great anger, as she was defiling the royal palace floor. But he said nothing as she finished and took some round pebbles out of a simple leather bag, dropping them on the floor with a clang. The guards, both burly elephantes with gold-tipped tusks, along with the king and himself, stared as she muttered and then spoke aloud. Truly this one was mad. Maybe it was not such a good idea to bring her before the king?
"Golden scales! He walks with power, lives in sands, voice of thunder!" Her voice echoed across the hall. "Great Scamander lives in sands! Can give great power to noble and wise!"
Suddenly, she whirled upon King Nekhmet. "A great curse! Curse unparalleled! It will be because of y..." She did not finish her sentence. Her finger was already pointing to Nekhmet, but Meptah, fearing the king's wrath, diverted it away and pushed her into the guards' arms, a chilling fear creeping up his spine. She did not tell him this, nothing of this. Only now he realized that he was used into bringing her here.
As the guards took Mazun away, her voice becoming fainter and fainter until it was hardly an echo, Meptah turned to King Nekhmet, who had already slithered down from his throne and was examining the strange, charcoaled symbol and stones on the floor.
"What did you think of her words?" the vizier asked, trembling with worry. Nekhmet was not exactly a patient, nor a kindly soul.
"She spoke of a creature that could grant power to the noble and wise! Am I not noble and wise?" Nekhmet asked softly. "What would it give me? Magics that could make even the mightiest of the Royal Magicians cower. I could unleash fire upon hapless foes... I could become the mightiest King of the Lost Desert." His voice was laced with greed but it was unusually quiet.
Meptah relaxed, though wondered why the king cared for something that probably did not exist. He was more or less worried about the curse she spoke of, and about how King Nekhmet would be its harbinger.
"Behold, my noble vizier. You were wise to bring her to me, for she has shown us where to find the Great Scamander!" He smiled and pointed to the charcoal. See that line, it points to a stone. Everything around it is a landmark, like that strange figure, and that stone... it all directs us to the beast. Get my caravan ready, and gather up all the supplies we may require. Ah, and bring plenty of gold, we must appear to come as suppliants to the beast. Be ready to leave at sunrise!"
"But my lord, what about weapons? Surely if the Scamander has so much power, one will need weapons to defend himself..."
"We don't need any weapons! I am King, and no creature, legendary or otherwise, would harm a king!" Nekhmet's smile became wicked, eager at the thought of getting untold power.
Meptah sighed, and turned. It was no use to thwart the will of the king. He did not seem to understand that this might as well be a wild djuti chase... or worse..."
"Make haste!" Nekhmet called out to nobody in particular, even as the procession dragged on behind their liege's awned litter.
They were traveling for hours now, and although Nekhmet claimed that they were passing the correct landmarks – the scribes had artfully copied the charcoal map on parchment for him - Meptah was doubtful. His tongue sagged idly, and his feet could move no more. It was only the king who rode in comfort, not the vizier or the rest of the train. Yet it was Meptah who rationed the supplies to the exhausted party, while the King Nekhmet snacked on cheese and honey at his leisure. Still, it was his right as king and nobody complained.
Meptah was ready to collapse when Nekhmet called out for them to rest under the shade of a mushroom shaped rock... the King was tired.
Meptah sank gratefully into the soft, cool, golden sand. He grabbed a water skin and drank deeply, unwilling to eat just yet. King Nekhmet's litter was put in the deepest shade, while the king remained within, studying his map with due diligence while scratching off all the marks they had passed earlier.
Meptah stood up hastily, shaking the sand off his robes, staring at the king. "What is it, lord? Are you hurt?"
"Not at all! I have found that we are very close to the Great Scamander!" Nekhmet pointed eagerly to a mushroom symbol. "It is the last symbol!" he shouted with almost childish glee.
Meptah, however, was not so eager. "Maybe we should turn back, my lord. There is something suspicious about all this..." He did not tell the king that his suspicions were on him.
"Nonsense, it's too late to turn back now." Nekhmet scoffed and raised himself up on his cushions.
That was the gesture to leave, so they did without a word. It took about thirty minutes of travel until they spotted a strange mountain range in the distance, with one, gigantic cave at the front.
"This is it..." murmured Meptah with awe. So Mazun was right after all. But now a new fear struck his heart. He had his doubts but the map was not wrong. Now he was afraid of the Great Scamander that lived within.
The cool, damp chasm seemed to stretch for a very long time. Moisture dripped somewhere, and Meptah was gripped with even more fear than before. Suddenly, he felt the air be blown out of his lungs as Nekhmet cuffed him, even extending beyond the litter's sandsilk curtains to do so. "Stop shivering, you coward!" he hissed. "You will shame us all."
It was without a doubt that the king was emboldened by the fact that he would soon be the most powerful being in all the Lost Desert. Yet Meptah was concerned that he forgot about the creature that would grant him this power.
Although the cavern was huge, it was tight with clasping rocks, and the mad king decided to leave his litter behind. The ground was too uneven and the carriers made it a bumpy ride, much to his displeasure. Before long Nekhmet turned to the rest of the procession, summoning forth only the guards that carried the baskets of gold as well as his vizier. The rest were told to get out quickly and they didn't have to be told twice to do so. Metpah controlled his trembling after glancing at the pale faces of the guards in the torchlight. Only Nekhmet was not afraid, and the shadows cast by the flames danced madly on his visage. Why he was asked to remain the vizier did not know, but he suspected that the others were sent away because the king feared that they would take the power he sought for themselves.
Deeper and deeper the tunnel went, until they stepped into a massive, spacious cavern. And then they saw it. The massive, glinting, mail-scaled bulk of a gigantic Scamander. Its body was shockingly enormous compared to the lithe petpets that frolicked in the Pylon Court. Its golden body heaved up and down with slumber, though it made nary a sound.
Meptah uttered a petrified squeak, and was cuffed again. "Hush, you fool!" Nekhmet said this a bit louder than intended, and moments later; the Scamander was looking straight at them with its gleaming eyes.
It took the king seconds to seize the opportunity, and rush up to the face of the creature. He pushed Meptah to the ground, but not the guards (for they were trembling on the ground), blowing out the lone torch that Meptah carried in the process. The darkness was chokingly thick, yet it was not to last. As the shocked vizier scrambled to find the torch, it billowed back to life, glowing brighter than ever.
"My most mighty lord!" cried Nekhmet, ignoring all. "I am King Nekhmet II, Ruler of the Kingdom of Qatan! I have come here, traveling with the sun upon my back, to see you, in hopes that you, oh Great One, might bestow upon me your powers so that I may use them to help my people become more prosperous and powerful!"
A silence followed, a deep, frightening silence. Meptah stared, transfixed, as the Scamander began to speak. Its voice was as old as the earth and as fresh as the breeze.
"O foolish King, you do really think that I believe your words? In truth, you only want power unto yourself, so that you may become a tyrant, and lead them with an iron fist." The words echoed in the chamber, said with such utter certainty that all who heard knew them to be true.
King Nekhmet stared, taken aback. But it was Meptah who was more shaken. He knew the king was greedy, but never did he expect him to turn on his people and become a tyrant. He instantly felt his heart plummet with shame. Was he not responsible for all this in the first place?
The moment was shattered when Nekhmet seemed to grow red with rage. "You oversized petpet! I will get that power no matter what you say!" He took up his scepter, and it began to glow a soft violet – the king knew well the sorcerous arts.
"No!" shouted Meptah, running towards the scepter and pushing it away from the Scamander, watching as a bolt of purple lightning struck the wall, and not the head of the great petpet as intended.
"Treasonous slorg!" bellowed the mad Hissi, now pointing the scepter to Meptah's heart.
Just as he was about to strike his own vizier with powerful magic, the scepter began to disintegrate, until it was nothing but golden dust. It took Nekhmet a second to comprehend this, and it was a second too late. Suddenly, the king began to disintegrate himself, screaming with angry protests as his body disappeared into glowing motes and ash. Meptah, weakened, watched with awe as the dust began to swirl into the air, twisting and churning, until it was surrounded with a bright light. He shielded his eyes but they burned regardless, and he screamed. But when the light began to dim and his vision cleared, an item dropped to the floor with a clang. With shivering hands the vizier took the golden object that was once his king. It was a crown now, moulded into the appearance of a coiling cobrall, its eyes gleaming red like those of his mad king. He heard whispers in his mind when he picked up the crown, and dropped it with a gasp. The whispers dissipated like sand into the desert dunes.
"He remains with us yet, but for now he will trouble the Qatari no more," said the Great Scamander gently.
Meptah stared at the crown and then looked up at the massive petpet. "But now what can we do? There cannot be a kingdom without a king." A note of sadness crept into Meptah's voice. Although he did not like Nekhmet, he already began to miss his angry voice and pointless demands.
"It can," was the reply. "Soon, your kingdom will fall to ruin, and only the sun and the wind will remember its name. You must evacuate quickly, taking all the food, scrolls, water, and necessities that you will need. Travel south, and you will find a home there. But be forewarned! You must protect this crown, and make sure it does not fall into anyone's hands, or your people shall face the consequences. For there lies a king within its matrix yet."
Meptah nodded and stood up, this time, he stood a bit taller. "Thank you," he said to the Great Scamander, bowed, and left with crown in an empty water bag.
It was only now that he saw the guards had fled long ago, and the gold lay scattered from the broken baskets, but he left them behind. He had something far more precious to him than gold now: knowledge, and his life.
A few days later, the procession returned to the city. All the people gathered to watch the silent troop march in, heads bowed with the knowledge they all bore. Whispers immediately spread, for the king was not among them. The whispers grew to a fever pitch when Meptah took command and ordered an evacuation immediately. No one knew why, and there was much angry protest. How could they drop everything and leave their homes? But when the dark and ominous clouds came on the horizon the Qatari finally began to filter out. A hundred carts filled to the brim with food, water, weapons and more, now exiting the gates.
Soon enough, the reasons for evacuation became frighteningly clear, for a huge sandstorm appeared and engulfed the city in golden sand. The homeless Qatari were stunned. Were was King Nekhmet? How did Meptah know of this sandstorm? Where would they go now?
Meptah answered as much as he could, telling the populace that Nekhmet abandoned them. Few believed it, but as time passed, they began to accept it. For many days and night they traveled south, until they finally came to a magnificent oasis, and built a city upon it. Meptah ordered the best masons and architects to ply their craft into its making, and soon beautiful courts and complexes began to take form. Great walls rose from the sand. And yet for all his effort, it was only after much pressure that the humble Meptah finally accepted the crown.
"What shall be the name of this new city, my liege?" asked Meptah's vizier.
The King thought for a moment, and then smiled. "I have the perfect name for a perfect city," he said proudly. "Let it be called... Qasala."
A young Kyrii rushed through a colonnade decorated with embroidered purple curtains, giggling as the dismayed shouts of his teachers echoed through the passage. "They will never find me here!" he murmured roguishly to himself.
When the shadows at one end of the tunnel disappeared, he slipped out of his hiding place, wondering if they would ever try finding him here. He did not pay attention, however, and a loose tile felled him to the floor. "Ouch!" he cried, rising and hastily brushing the robes that designated him as royalty.
He may have been a prince, but why should he have to go to school every day, like all the other children? This would have never happened if the teachers finally accepted that he just didn't like arithmetic. With a grumble, he looked at the floor to try and find an excuse for his clumsiness. His eyes caught on the offending tile that was raised, unlike the others, which were neatly fitted together. Curious, he cracked his knuckles, and tugged as hard as he could at the stone. His attempt was rewarded with a satisfying 'shhhhk' as the tile was slid out of its place with a billow of dust upon the ground.
The Kyrii prince looked down into a hollow space, staring at a small leather bag that lay there, covered in dust. He picked it up and sneezed, brushing away the powdered stone and opening the bag. Then he saw a brilliant gleam of gold.
A hint of greed entered the young prince's mind as he took out a cobrall crown, staring at its glowing eyes.
"Raise me to your brow..."
He gasped and dropped the crown as the voice slithered into his mind like a tendril of shadow. He stared stupidly at it for a short while, and then wondered if it fit. The voice faded from his memory, leaving a thought that for all intents and purposes could have been his original idea. Gingerly he picked it up again, and was about to put it on his head when the voice returned.
"Crown yourself!" it said with dripping eagerness.
"All right, all right!" the prince said, frowning, as he placed the crown on his head.
Suddenly, he felt himself being torn apart. Clutching his head, he stood up, crying out, shuffling and tripping, trying to get the screams out of his head. A circle of fire appeared, burning the exquisite curtains and leaving a tail of flame. Then the screams stopped.
No longer was the Kyrii wearing the robes of royalty. Now, he wore robes of black and orange, a curious smile playing on his lips, and the glistening crown upon his head.
"What is your name, o king to be?" asked the hissing voice of the crown, filling the head of the Kyrii whose mind was now filled with thoughts of darkness and consuming shadow.