Here was a world where the continents were united under the benevolent ruler only known as "The Fifth Emperor" or simply "Emperor," whose lifeless body was found on the shore near the Port City just three days ago. His successor, Vasyl, had just awaken to frenzy movements and ticking sounds around his bed as his toy soldiers attempted to pull off his covers in unison. He usually found them humorous, but today they were a nuisance.
I shouldn't have asked them wake me up. He thought grumpily. Vasyl had the ability to negotiate with items to life, a skill distinctive to the Emperor. And yesterday, he used this skill to bring his toy soldiers to life with one condition: wake up him no matter what.
He just didn't expect them to take it so seriously.
Today, he was expected to verify the dead body of the previous Emperor, the first initiation of many to the throne. But the moment the morning air hit his exposed arms and feet, a sign that the toy soldiers had succeeded, he suddenly didn't want to wake up. He could hear little ticking noises and spotted a lone soldier standing at the edge of his bed.
"Tick. Tick. Tick," said the soldier wearing a blue uniform with golden and red sashes.
"No," he replied, hugging his pillow closer.
"Tick. Tick. Tick." The soldier gestured to the toys below. "Tick. Tick. Tick."
The small voice was soon joined by his comrades until the entire bedroom was filled with a loud "ticking" noise that drown out the poor boy's need for sleep.
Vasyl was strapped to a dragon moments later with a piece of egg sandwich in one hand and a drink in the other. He never liked those enlarged reptiles, for they had a nasty habit of chewing on his toys and stealing anything remotely shiny.
"I recommend that you finish your breakfast now," said the steward. "This one is a juvenile. I haven't had time to properly train him so the ride today might be a touch uncomfortable."
"You can't expect me to starve, now, can you?"
"Of course not," the steward said light-heartedly.
Vasyl took a larger bite of the sandwich as the helper continued to work on the many buckles of the harness. "Why are we flying with a prematurely trained beast? I'm sure we have a good stock of trained adults somewhere."
"I'm afraid all the adults have been in use since the beginning of the year. And this...appointment...was rather sudden. We didn't have time to prepare."
"I see. Unfortunate," said Vasyl. The steward nodded in agreement. "What's your name?"
"I have been forbidden to tell you, sir."
Vasyl hummed as he finished his sandwich and took a sip of water from his canteen. "Are you going to ask for my name?"
"Why, you're the Emperor. Or soon to be." The man said dismissively, keeping his eyes trained on his task, as he gave a light tug on get harness and walked over to the Emperor's companion.
"But do you know my name?" Vasyl continued.
The steward paused and looked at Vasyl as if he had grown several heads in the span of a few seconds. His eyebrows were scrunched up together in concentration and thought. This was a man who wore a permanent scowl like he wore his sense of humor. Often. Dare I say, always?
The wrinkles that formed between his eyes and the tilt of his thick eyebrows when he concentrated… It wasn't very appealing on his features. And, well, it felt as if he was glaring at Vasyl.
"What?" Vasyl finally asked, feeling self conscious. He couldn't decipher whether that expression was aggression or… Or...nothing else, really. He just felt like it was aggression. And it was intimidating. "Why are you…?"
"Stop it," said an irritated voice. Vasyl jumped. "There's no need for him to know your name. You won't be 'Vasyl' after today but the Sixth Emperor."
This was Whiskers, a stuffed toy in the form of a cat-like animal brought to life by the Fourth Emperor's magical threads. It had been decades since his creation, and his body, made from worn out cloths of various designs and colors, was barely held together by the golden threads that lined his abdomen.
"I know that," said Vasyl, irritated that Whiskers had brought him the very source of his anxiety. "I'm not a baby."
Below were small buildings and small islands on the surface of the sea. From this distance, the large body of water reminded the youth of creases on permanently ironed dress pants, deliberate in their patterns and unmoving. It seemed that time had stopped for the waves below. There was a factory built at the divide between the cliff and the waters. White smoke drifted away from the gray metal building, but it, too, had stopped as if it were no more than a cloud that had paused on its journey to visit earth.
And then it was gone, enshrouded by a vision of white as the clouds engulfed the voyagers enveloped in the warmth of their thick coats. For a while, they were silent, allowing the whistling of the wind to speak in their stead, until a small voice spoke up. "Emperor, are you...perhaps...nervous about receiving the responsibilities of the throne?"
Vasyl gave the Whiskers a sideways glanced and sighed. He wasn't the Emperor yet. He was still Vasyl. And he had hoped that he would still be Vasyl even after the initiation, but it didn't seem like that would happen.
"I don't see any reason to be. I'm only Emperor in name."
Whiskers didn't reply, just nodded as if he found that answer acceptable.
What Vasyl really wanted to do was shrug off all responsibilities, stomp his feet, and have a complete meltdown, collapsing to the floor while flaring his arms dramatically. And wailing too. That was a must.
Vasyl sighed again.
"I don't want to be the Emperor." He said, and there was even a whine in his voice.
Whiskers didn't say anything. He wasn't even moving.
This happened every time, it seemed, when Vasyl spoke of being something else, something that didn't have to do with the role of Emperor.
Vasyl poked his arm. No response.
The cold shoulder. It was a cruel tactic.
The clouds eased away as they slowly descended towards the northern country where white covered jigsaw puzzles of earth and thin trickles of rivers. And as the night grew darker, he watched as lights flickered on one by one until an entire city was outlined with brilliant orange disguises that stretched for miles, carried by cars, conceptions that Vasyl had read were made from metal. They flowed like an endless river, so gradually and so smoothly that one could almost mistake them as products of earth.
This world was his. And yet he did not want it.
The dragon roared in his excitement and sped towards the wandering lights. Vasyl inhaled sharply through clenched teeth as the dragon began to take steep dives, his goggles leaving an imprint around his eyes as the wind picked up speed. His ears began to pop and sting as if ripped by a sharp dagger. The scarf that he wore threatened to choke him unless he gave it freedom.
"Steward, control this beast," he commanded as he gripped tightly onto the side of his seat.
The landing was quite awkward. The earth shook, and he landed face forward on the dragon, digging his nails into the creature's scales. If the creature had any dislike of him before, it would certainty hate him now.
"My goodness," said Whiskers, now awake from his hibernation, as he clung to the young Emperor. "I think I lost a few of my threads."
Vasyl smiled. "I'm sure you will be fine. You're alive, aren't you?"
A few of the travelers had lost their belongings, among them Vasyl's scarf and the golden threads on the tips of Whisker's ears.
The dragon continued to wrestle with his owner even as the two walked closer to the river of cars. "So this is a highway," he said as he hooked his fingers onto the metal wire. "It's rather disappointing."
He had never seen the city before, only flipped through picture books and read dense paragraphs about them. People. Lots of them, traveling in iron made boxes. It seemed so surreal, like it could never happen. But it did happen. He was here.
But the moment he came face to face with the large, bulky vehicles...the magic was gone. It wasn't the fantasy he imagined in his head. It was dirty, very much like a well trodden dirt road except it was black where it should have been brown. This was no river of lights.
He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the disappointment seep in, and then turned sharply to Whiskers, mustering his most courageous voice. "Where's the body?"
I could live without knowing, he thought.
He was scared.
Author's Note: Hi, this is the story that I'm working on for NaNoWriMo 2014. It's the National November Writing Month (abbreviated as NaNoWriMo). The challenge is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I am a little behind, but I will reach that goal so please expect this story to be moving. Updates will come weekly, possibly twice weekly since it's my first story on here.
I look forward to hearing from you. I hope that you enjoy this story, and I'm glad that you took the time to look it over. :D
Also, review if you can. :D
“We did a throughout search of his remains and have collected enough evidence to make a conclusion regarding the death of his previous Highness.”
Vasyl nodded, mimicking the stance of the adults in the room. His feet hurt from the walking and the standing (exercise wasn’t an activity he had on a daily basis); and his neck had started to tense, and his shoulders felt as if they were up to his ears. “Your conclusion?”
"The Emperor," the speaker paused. "The Fifth Emperor, I mean, was last seen borrowing a fisherman's boat, one that was unfit for most travels and was quickly overturned by the disruptions in the surrounding water."
“Is the body in there?” Whiskers spoke up, nodding towards a hidden door behind her.
“Yes.” She leaned back, pushing the door back slightly. It was enough for Vasyl to see more than he wanted.
The Fifth Emperor's bare body was laid out on the table with his chest cavity split open and his ribs cracked, revealing organs wrapped in red. There was so much blood.
“He’s bleeding,” Vasyl observed in shock. He didn’t mean to say it, but he couldn’t help himself. It was probably the most obvious comment he could say at that moment, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
He grimaced at the pungent smell of formaldehyde that found its way out of the room.
“Would you like to see?” She asked Whiskers hesitantly but looked over at Vasyl concern.
“I...don’t.” Vasyl said.
I supposed the correct answer is “yes,” thought Vasyl, but he couldn’t seem to bring himself to act properly. His hands were sweaty now.
She nodded and closed the door.
"Why was it necessary then to do this?" Vasyl motioned to the door.
She followed his gaze. "It is a part of the protocols mandated by the counsel."
"Emperor," interrupted her partner, a man in his early thirties with short cropped hair. "Will you be staying here tonight?"
There is goodness in the world.
Vasyl took this as a sign to leave. "No need. I’ve seen enough. The Fifth Emperor has passed."
He said it too quickly, he realized, the moment those words left him. But he didn’t need to stay any longer, and he didn’t want to. “I know my way out.”
He strode out the door with his heels clicking, Whiskers shadowing him. When he reached the corner, he looked back and saw the two agents opening the hidden door, where the body was laid out. As the agent spoke, his eyes remained fixated on the body. "It is unfortunate that a man of his caliber had such a short lifespan."
Vasyl kept walking, heading through a long hallway and out of the double doors of the state building. There were few people working tonight. Not one of them seemed interested in interacting with him, and he was glad. He suddenly felt exhausted, and he wasn’t sure he had enough energy to deal with people at that moment. No other loud noises beside a mosquito-like buzzing sound.
“Whiskers, I...” Vasyl started just as the two walked through the double doors, but he didn’t know how to finish. He just wanted to say something.
“The new Emperor is...a boy…?,” he heard behind him.
The gap in the door sealed behind Vasyl and Whiskers as the voice trailed off.
He was met with a cold night that pierced every exposed skin. The joints of his fingers locked together under the cruel torture of the night wind, and it felt as if his nose was threatening to fall off. He blinked away tears.
"Is it cold?" asked Whiskers.
"Wouldn't know the feeling.”
There was a deafening pause. An oxymoron. It felt like there was more said in silence than in moments of excessive chit-chat. He didn’t want to talk. He didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t show just how out of place he felt at that moment in the world.
“What do you think of the two?"
And the chattiness began again.
"I think they're lying. I’ve never heard of such a mandate,” said Vasyl.
That wasn’t exactly a lie. What he meant to say was that he didn’t know that it existed. He hadn’t been very fond of reading up on politics and laws. It was one of those subjects he just...didn’t really care for.
He didn’t really think he would ever become a sovereign, and he always assumed that he would just live his days with his toys pretending to be someone with power. He had always hoped he would get to go home, and one of the other candidates would be picked. They were more qualified, after all.
"There are things," Whiskers began. "that are too trivial for the ears such as yours."
"I don't like being kept in the dark." he sulked.
The walk to the landing platform was longer and much more excruciating than their initial trip. Whiskers often complained about the snow soaking into his cotton feet. Vasyl remained quiet, too absorbed in his miserable state to even notice the softness of the snow beneath his boots.
As the two drew closer to the form of a slumbering dragon and his owner, the Emperor groaned.
It didn’t look like they could fly tonight, but he didn’t want to stay here, especially with the lingering memory of death.
High attitudes and cold air and the human body didn’t mix well together. Neither did that combination with the reptilian body. It seemed like a deadly mixture, a poorly made decision, a potential hazard that may give him an end like that of the previous Emperor.
And for a moment he almost gave into it. His young mind, filled with anxiety over seeing the dead body of the previous Emperor for whom he would replace, could only think about escape.
He just stood there for a moment, allowing his weary, lidded eyes to wander from the watchful eyes of the dragon to the steward, who refused to share his name. They were nestled around a dimming fire, one that the steward had to feed constantly in order to sustain.
Vasyl sat down opposite of them. Whiskers chose to recline against the dragon.
The fire crackled and then dimmed. No one spoke.
That seems to happen a lot today.
He focused his attention on a twig that he had found on the ground, using it to trace random squiggly-lines in the ground.
“Magic?” asked the steward. Squiggles. “The Emperors are known for magic.”
“Not magic,” said Vasyl.
“Runes?” supplied the steward. “I heard of those as well. Do you know those?”
“Squiggly-lines.” Vasyl deadpanned.
Not everything was magic. Most things weren’t. Most people that knew of magic had never met a user, but there was an overwhelming amount of magic users in the royal Kingdom. They were often invited initially. If that didn’t work, they were required. And if that still didn’t work, they were forcefully removed from their homes.
The steward nodded, adding more branches to the fire.
“What’s the plan?” asked the steward, looking at Vasyl. His grey eyes were unreadable. His thick eyebrows and the wrinkles formed around his forehead made his expression inhospitable. Or maybe Vasyl was just paranoid.
“We’re staying here.” That sentence dampened his mood. “I don’t know where, though.”
“There’s a place for us in the state building,” said Whiskers.
“It smells like death,” said Vasyl.
“Better there than to freeze out here,” said the steward. “How far is it?”
“Thirty minutes from here, up the hill.”
“Let’s get moving now. It’s almost the next day,” the steward stood up, dusting snow from his pants and throwing a small sachet over his shoulder.
Vasyl stood up and sighed.
“Come on, up.” The steward patted the dragon’s back leg, encouraging the beast to move. It stretched, creating large snow mounts with its fore and back legs before standing sitting up.
The state building was closed.
They were now in an old styled inn with an equally old name, a catch phrase popular 20 years ago among teens, not completely outdated. The inn belonged to a tired older woman and her husband, both of whom eyed the group with irritation, before welcoming them dismissively.
“Welcome.” She said and then muttered to herself. “Should have come sooner. Waking people just at this hour.”
“Sorry,” said Vasyl.
She turned sharply. Vasyl assumed she was going to scold him, but she said, instead, maintaining the grouchy tone of voice, “Where are you going to put that thing?”
“The dragon?” asked the steward.
“Do you have a shed?”
“Don’t need one. You can rent one out, but every thing’s closed.”
The steward nodded.
“What are you going to do?” asked Vasyl.
“Tabbie can just wander on her own then.”
“Cute name, right? My niece named her. She always wanted a cat.” The auburn haired man chuckled at the fond memory.
“Why couldn’t she get one?”
“Allergies. Broke out in hives everything she touched one. Poor thing. Always loved cats and kittens. Chased down a stray once.”
“Here’s your room. You pay up front.” The woman listed their room price before adding, “Restrooms are communal. It’s down the hall.”
She lifted a square shaped key, “This one is for the room.” She handed one for each except Whiskers, who she found unsettling to look at. She lifted another key, one with a round shape. “This is for the bathroom.” And then she passed two around. The last key had a plastic black cover. “For the front door.”
Vasyl thanked her upon receiving it and apologized for waking her.
She muttered something incoherent before heading back to bed.
The doorway to the room was narrow and short. Vasyl walked through with ease, but the steward had to duck in order to make it pass.
“Can you believe her?” said Whiskers once they were inside. “Awful woman.”
“We did wake her up. I wouldn’t want to be awake now. I still don’t.”
“That’s her job, and she gave poor service. Look at this place.”
Vasyl sat down on one of the twin sized beds, leaning over untie his shoelaces. “You’re just angry because she ignored you.”
“Yes, that,” Whiskers bit out. “There was so much disgust radiating off of her that I thought it was morning.”
“It is morning, though.”