Interview with an Emperor
“RIKER!” Llorva screamed furiously. The escort became confounded. He looked at Llorva, then back at Riker.
“What did you just say?”
“This is the lost princess of the elf kingdom, Flos Sergens.” Riker reiterated.
“You venometongued snake!” Llorva hissed pure anger as she ran toward Riker with her dagger. Riker easily dodged the attack and disarm her.
“What is this?” one of the other escorts asked. They all were caught off guard and did not expect such a revelation. Llorva looked back at the people around her with wild eyes then focused her craze onto Riker. How could he betray her like this? Of the entire group, it was him that she was foolish enough to trust.
“Princess, is this truly you?” a different escort said as they all flocked around the scene. Civilians nearby stopped what they were doing and stared at the drama that was unfolding before them.
“I trusted you and you betrayed me,” Llorva continued to yell at Riker. The words came out like needles to his face.
Riker looked at her plainly. “Things will be in our favor now,” he held his hands up and kept his distance.
“Your grace,” the first of the escorts said while bowing. “We will get you to see the emperor immediately,” a new-found energy took over the entire party of escorts. They all quickly guided Riker and the found princess into the palace orchards where they met the guards outside the enormous building. These guards looked rather different from the guards manning the city’s entrances; these human guards were more athletically built and they possessed armor and versatile weaponry that were much more reminiscent to the forging style of the southern provinces.
Baron Von Riker
As the escorts explained to the guards staffing the front doors of the palace about the presumed princess, Riker glance at Llorva. Her once fair complexion had turned beat red as if she were holding back regrettable words. He thought to speak to her but fought against the urge. “We will be taking you to the emperor right away,” the escort said as he stepped down to them from the stairs. “He will especially want to speak with the princess immediately.”
“What of our friends?” Llorva asked. Her voice jaded from the screaming.
“The Principium man and sarkany woman you spoke of before have been identified and will be brought to you promptly your grace,” he replied respectfully.
“That is more like it,” Riker said smiling then shamelessly made eye contact with Llorva, who glared at him hatefully. They were brought inside the palace which had a gleaming marble floor at the entrance and four and a half meter tall columns that held sconces in place to illuminate the halls ahead of them.
A single scuff of a shoe would surely echo throughout the nearby chambers, Riker thought. The acoustics in these enormous rooms would complement his instruments. Riker wondered how many bards he knew back in university had performed here. The ceilings themselves were no less than six meters tall and every chamber they passed had a bronze chandelier that gave a heavenly glow in each room. Riker caught a glance of a large chamber that was crowded with hundreds of people shouting drunkenly. These people were the other adventurers. By the looks of them, most seemed to have traveled far and wide to get here. None of them seemed pleased in their current situation and Riker speculated that they all may have been waiting in there for days to see the emperor.
One of the next rooms Riker noticed was a prayer room just left of the next hall. Candelabras and small braziers heavily illuminated it. It looked like dozens of clergymen occupied this space, all praying to their respected deities. He remembered the Phoenix then. Had it been watching him since? He recognized that thus far he had not shared his experience with anyone and contemplated consulting a cleric. Riker then looked to the escort that walked beside him. “Are you a holy man?” he asked.
“I am what my leader say I am,” the man’s words rung in Riker’s ears like the tone of a mosquito. It annoyed him but he understood what the man meant; What he believed in did not matter so long he kept face with the status quo to the empire. Riker had known men like this one all his life. The way he saw it, conformity meant adopting ideals that did not belong to you; or at the very least, belonged to him. It made sense to Riker, to have a united front, but he did not agree with it on a personal level. “What of you my lord?” the escort followed. “Do you express reverence to a deity?” Riker did not answer immediately.
He thought for a moment before saying, “I certainly believe the deities play a part in all our lives.”
“That is not what I asked,” the escort replied. Riker reconsidered his question. It was a question he had never taken seriously till recently.
“I believe I do now,” he said as he observed the scars on his forearms.
“We have arrived,” one of the other escorts ahead announced. Two of them opened the heavy wooden doors and inside was a well-lit room that took the shape of a dome. The curved walls on either end of the room were carved into to make space for shelves that held golden objects and countless texts. The room resembled that of a small library, and that for only the most elite of nobles. The floor was made of an elaborate mosaic picture of the world in the center between the sun and moon. It was a true marvel; whomever worked on the floor must have spent nearly a decade fitting all the pieces together so beautifully. Riker even found himself somewhat impressed.
Llorva’s heart was pounding in her chest like a caged canary fluttering wildly to escape. There before her was the man she had only met a few times before in her long lifespan. He probably didn’t recognize her at first. The last she saw him, he was in the middle of adolescence and just taking reign over the Zion Province. He was now middle-aged with the brow of an eagle and the mold of a beast past its prime. Llorva immediately went to right side of the room where hundreds of books rested on the concaved shelves. Riker glanced over to the left side of the room and saw Kruzco slouched on a lounge with two zionder women under each of his arms and a bottle of wine in his right hand.
“Kruzco! Are you all right?” Riker cried.
“Never be’er my friend,” Kruzco said slurring his words.
“Your friend here has made quite the recovery,” the emperor behind the desk said. His speech heavy with a zionder accent. “He withstood enough poison to take down an antelope. I am sure he made his ancestors proud,” he witted.
“He is by far the strongest man I have ever met,” Riker replied as he took a closer look at Kruzco. His hairy chest was exposed and his shoulder where he was hit with the poisoned javelin was completely bandaged.
“They gave me booze ’o ’elp wi’h ’he pains,” Kruzco blurted with a grin.
Riker grinned back at him. “I owe you my life,” he replied.
“Nonsense, you would ’ave done ’he same faw me.”
“Indeed, I would.”
“Now that we have gotten past ceremony,” the emperor started as he stood from his desk. “I would like to speak with you princess.”
“I will speak to you when my sarkany friend gets here,” Llorva said sternly.
Kruzco squinted his eyes at Llorva, “Princess?”
The guards at the door stepped toward the Llorva but the emperor raised his hand to give them pause. He then gave her a cold glare. “Your friend is on her way. What is her name again?” He asked, referring to the guards.
“Vylasgarden your grace,” one of the two guards spoke.
“How do you know her name?” Llorva asked them.
“Your drunk friend here has been sharing everything about you all in your absence,” the emperor started. “From your names to your ravishing good looks princess Azariah.”
“Do not call me that,” she threatened.
The emperor ingnored her, “Which reminds me, Anderious would you be so kind as to relieve them of their weapons? I am sure you all understand.”
“I understand that you fear that we will kill you,” Riker said as he handed his rapier over to Anderious, the guard.
The emperor chuckled. “My dear boy, if I was truly threatened by you I would have you all killed.” He smiled at Riker confidently. “Come to think of it, removing your rapier would not do much, would it?”
Riker held the emperor’s gaze, “Hold on. Did you call me boy?”
“From what I heard from your human friend, you are quite the arcane trickster,” the emperor continued.
“I can do a lot more than tricks,” Riker said exuberantly and Anderious drew his short sword to Riker’s neck.
The emperor chuckled. “Show me, please.”
“I will show and tell you everything you want just as soon as⏤” and right then the doors open by a second pair of guards who held a bloodied and semiconscious Vylasgarden.
“Vylasgarden!” Llorva cried in shock as the guards dump her bruised body on the floor.
“What is the meaning of this?” the emperor demanded.
“Your grace, I…we…we found it outside the city sc- sc- scaling the walls trying to get inside.” Llorva saw that this guard was young and ill experienced.
“He speaks true your grace,” the second guard spoke up. He was older and seemed to be a ranking leader of some sort. “The creature was caught attempting to trespass and so my men shot it down but it still nearly killed a legion of us, and⏤”
“Enough!” the room fell silent as the emperor’s demeanor changed. “It is bad enough you paraded her in the streets but now you’ve thrown her blood body on the floor of my study!”
“Our apologies your grace, we came as quickly as we could when we heard she was a member of the princess’s party. She gave us quite the struggle from the dungeons.”
“Is that the story?” Riker chimed. “Because by the looks of the two of you and the looks of her, the quarrel was not in her favor.”
“Bite your tongue elf,” the elder guard threatened.
“You dare beat my friend near to death and threaten me to be silent!?” Riker was now screaming in the face of the guard.
“I demand that everyone calm down!” the emperor shouted. “You are guests in my domain and I refuse this kind of behavior in my chambers.”
“Some host you are,” Riker turned to face the emperor. Llorva reached for Riker’s arm but he shrugged her off. “Your men welcomed my friend with an arrow in the back and a damn near military assault just because she is of dragonkin.”
The emperor scowled at Riker but paused before replying. “You friend is lucky to be alive Baron Von Riker,” Llorva found that each word was like poison from his lips. “Now I suggest you sit down or I will turn you all away for your disrespect.” Llorva took a deep breath and helped Riker bring Vylasgarden to her feet. They both brought her over to the desk and had her sit in the right chair beside a left chair that Riker chose to sit in. “Now, I wish to see your magic,” the emperor said referring to Riker.
Riker paused for a moment and asked. “What is your name anyway?”
“My name is Theod-Rah, ruler of the entire Zion empire.”
“Is Theod-Rah fine, or will I have to include ‘ruler of the entire Zion empire’ as well?” Llorva instinctively elbowed Riker in the shoulder.
The emperor smirked. “Theod-Rah will suffice.”
“Well your majesty, for me to perform my tricks, I will need my trustworthy lute,” Riker said holding his hand out to Anderious without looking at him. The guard handed him his lute which he had confiscated and Riker took a deep breath then began to play a tune. After a moment the strings of the lute began to illuminate with a blue hue. They grew brighter and brighter until the flames from the candles and candelabras around him began to pucker to the melody with every pluck of a string. It was as if they were dancing to the tune of Riker’s enchanting song.
“This is hardly a feat,” Theod-Rah commented. “Do you take me for a fool?”
Riker glared at him then began to play with more vigor. “Do you know what is interesting about the differences between elves and humans?” Riker asked while continuing to play his song. The emperor returned his glare but remained silent. “Elves can see in the dark,” and with that came a harsh pluck of a string that extinguished of all the lights in the room. The guards all drew their swords but after a moment Riker began to play softly again which ignited the wicks and every note that came after made some flames extinguish and some and ignite in different colors from the fiery oranges. The dark grey smoke from the extinguished flames would change to different colors. Vibrant reds, blossoming yellows, and aqueous blues to name a few that awed Llorva.
“Remarkable,” Theod-Rah said under his breath.
Riker smirked. “I know,” and he stopped playing abruptly and sat his lute down beside him.
Kruzco stood to his feet and began to clap and cheer loudly, “Woohoo! Yeah!” He yelled before falling back down on the lounge and wrapped his arms around the women that sat with him.
“I am sure you are capable of more,” Theod-Rah said with intrigue.
“Perhaps another time your majesty,” Riker replied. “I much rather discuss⏤”
“If you wish for this meeting to continue, I would suggest you tell me,” Theod-Rah insisted. Llorva read Theod-Rah over and decided that the emperor was not bluffing.
Riker seemed to have come to that conclusion as well since he sighed and said, “I am also capable of energy projections, minor illusions, and mental manipulation to name my most useful spells.”
“Fascinating,” Theod-Rah said softly. “With very few mages in the world I would not expect one to fall into my quarters alongside a sarkany and the princess of Flos Sergens herself.”
“An’ Kruzco!” Kruzco shouted from across the room.
“Ah yes, the beast-man. Are you capable of any particularly interesting feats?”
Kruzco took a swig of wine and said, “Beast-man capable ov’ smashin your skull in…”
Once again, the guards unsheathed their weapons but Theod-Rah halted them.
“My what a murderous group you are,” Theod-Rah expressed. “What brought you in the midst of these,” he pondered, “People,” he said referring to the princess.
“These people are not my friends,” she said sternly.
“Llorva…” Vylasgarden painfully mumbled with a broken jaw.
“That is not her name,” the emperor followed. His voice was even. “She has been deceiving you all. Her real name is Azariah Sergens, princess to the kingdom of Flos Sergens under the elven royal family.”
“You have been lying to us the whole time?” Vylasgarden questioned.
“I was protecting you,” Azariah replied.
Riker stood up from his chair and faced her, “You were protecting yourself.”
“You’re not innocent yourself,” she accused. “You knew who I was from the beginning and didn’t tell them.” Azariah then got into Riker’s face and whispered, “And at least I don’t have people’s blood on my hands.” Riker staggered and swallowed hard. Silence took over the room as Azariah and Riker faced off.
Eventually Theod-Rah chimed in, “Are you done? Frankly, I do not care how you all managed to get here unscathed. What I do care about is whether you can put your differences aside to serve me.”
“What would you have us do?” Riker finally said breaking eye contact with Azariah.
“I need you to tract something down for me.”
“What is it?” Azariah asked.
“I due time princess. You haven’t accepted my quest yet.”
“What are you offering us in return?” Riker followed.
“One million union coins amongst yourselves once you have brought it back to me.”
“What is it?” Riker repeated.
“Something very precious to me and too valuable to be spoken of here,” the emperor replied. “Do you accept my offer?”
“Are you going to turn me in?” Azariah asked. Her tone now pleading.
“I have no interest meddling in your family affairs, however, I do require a reason I should not turn you to your father. There is a high price for your return.”
Azariah stared at him for a moment. Her fate was in the hands of this greedy man. “When this is all over, I will share elven secrets with you in exchange for the rescue of my sister, Tetra.”
Theod-Rah smiled, “You would easily betray your people’s ancestry for your sister?”
“I would for our freedom.”