The Reality Saga Volume I - The Song of Steel

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Chapter Fourteen

On that late spring night of the year 994 the power of the Shadow and its hold on the Ten Realms of Syreal was at last broken. All throughout the world there was celebration as the people rose up against Magus that suddenly found themselves powerless and masterless. Uncounted numbers were returned from the embrace of the lingering death, returned to the land of the living, some of whom had been in their trance for many years.

Atolibus had the new High Council of the Realm, constituted of new men alongside perhaps a dozen survivors from before the war, reinstate Lothane Lothanis XIV as the King of Lothanis. His friend had returned to them on the same day as everyone else, awakening in the chambers set aside in the castle for those that had befallen the same fate. After a short period of tears and laughter Atolibus had wrenched the crown from his own head and handed it back to his friend, admonishing him.

“See to it I never have to wear this wretched thing again,” he said. Lothane shot him a grin and Atolibus cracked a smile. “It’s good to have you back.” The king gave himself a shake, standing in the throne room with men moving about, seeing to repairs and the administration of the kingdom, taking stock in his surroundings.

“At least you managed to only wreck half the place while I was away,” he said. Atolibus gave a hearty laugh at this and Kristina, dressed in white robes with her silver crown still atop her head, smiled to see her husband cheerful for the first time in months. The Great War had been short, but fierce, and many lives in every land had been lost to it, many cities and castles destroyed. Many of the preexisting noble lines had been wiped out, and the Kings and Queens of the Realms had their hands full raising new nobles and handing out titles and land. She wondered if the specter of what Atolibus had been through would ever truly leave him. Whatever the case, she would be there at his side, ready to help him should he need it.

“That you accomplished so much, in such a short time, is a true mark of your blood,” Jael said from Lothane’s side. The King’s brother had been found in the dungeons at the Magus stronghold, along with thousands of other victims of their tyranny. Atolibus was shocked to see the graying man’s face among the crowds he had rescued, and had been overcome with joy. Jael himself seemed little worse for wear, although his eyes had a hunted look that hadn’t been in them before, and Kristina wondered if he would resume his post as a Lord General of the Army, or would seek retirement. He had certainly earned it, she thought, even if the darkness of his spirit still left her feeling uneasy.

“Truly,” Lothane said. He looked at Atolibus with something akin to reverence. “The True King.” He had learned of his oldest friend’s lineage quickly upon his return, and did not yet know exactly how he felt about it, other than awestruck. So many legends and stories surrounded the man, and he hadn’t heard half of them. “That makes us kin, you, me and Jael here. You would be something like a grandfather to us.” Atolibus smiled.

“A couple dozen generations removed,” he replied, “but yes, you are my direct descendant in an unbroken line from father to son for nearly a thousand years. Direct from me and my only son, to you, Lothane the Fourteenth of his name.”

“You are the rightful king of this land,” Lothane said. Atolibus grimaced – he had so recently managed to extricate himself from the position, he didn’t need his own blood shoving it back on him. “No, don’t give me that look, I don’t care what you say. You are the True King, Atolibus, my friend. You are the rightful master of this realm.” Atolibus nodded to Sarcodus, striding into the throne room behind them without a word. The man in silver stood behind and between Atolibus and Kristina, motionless, a look of simple joy on his face.

“The True King is dead,” Atolibus said, light in his eyes. “Well and truly gone, at long last. He has faded into the distance as yet another memory and legend. That aspect is now a part of me, just like everything else. He won’t be seen again. I am Atolibus Sandrin, no more, no less.”

“Very well, very well, have it your way,” Lothane said, feigning disgust. “I suppose I’ll just have to wear this thing again.” He appraised the golden crown in his hands. It was warm to the touch, and the jewel in the center shone brighter than he ever remembered. He looked to Sarcodus, standing quietly, and arched an eyebrow. “And you are certain you wish to step down from your posts as Regent and Supreme Lord Commander of the Armies?” Atolibus nodded.

“Lothane, let me present to you Sarcodus Arcadia, a man I have known my entire life, one who has never let me down through adversity,” he said, stepping aside. Sarcodus gave a deep, regal bow with a flourish of his cloak, and Lothane nodded. Indeed, he noted, the man carried himself well. He had the bearing of a noble, with a fighter’s posture. Much like Atolibus himself, he realized. “Lord Commander Arcadia commanded the combined Army of the Ten Realms in the last defense of the castle, when Grand Magus Gregor Solara descended upon us with a hundred thousand men at his command.” Lothane whistled – all of the details he was being filled in on left him in a continual state of bewilderment. He hadn’t been missing for long, Atolibus had not had to bear the burden of the crown for more than two months, and yet everything about the world seemed to have changed.

“Then be welcome, Lord Commander Arcadia, my new Regent,” the king said, bowing to the man who now wielded the power of the throne. Sarcodus sighed – this hadn’t been his idea, and yet it seemed to suit him. Since his awakening in this day and age, he had been itching to dive back into the ocean that was humanity, and this presented him with an opportunity unlike one he’d ever see again to do just that. He suspected that the titles were a formality, and any rate, neither he nor Lothane were foolish enough to miss who would be the true power behind everything. Atolibus might not possess the titles any more, but now that it was known who and what he was, the level of fear and respect that the men and women of the Ten Realms had for him would be magnified tenfold. Jael knelt before Sarcodus, fist to heart, in the traditional Lothanis salute.

“Oh, get up all ready,” Sarcodus said. Jael rose, chuckling.

“You and Atolibus are not so different,” he said. “I can see where he got some of the odder bits of his disposition.” Atolibus shot him a glare, which set Lothane to laughing along with his brother.

“Some things never change, do they, old man?” Lothane said, smiling broadly, breathing deep of the fresh air of life around them. He locked eyes with his oldest friend for a moment, before adding, “Although, some things do. The more I learn about you, old man, the more you surprise me.” He looked to the young woman at his side, and couldn’t help smiling. “So you finally found someone that can stand your temperament. I never thought it possible.” He sketched a bow to Kristina, something that put a merry light in her eyes. “Queen Kristina, was it?” She removed the silver crown from her head, attempting to hand it to Lothane, but he waved her off. “No, my dear, you earned that crown, wretched as wearing one may be, though Atolibus may refuse his. As my first returning decree as King Lothane Lothanis the Fourteenth of His Name, let it be known that Atolibus Sandrin has stepped down as Regent and Supreme Lord Commander of the Armies, and has named his successor – Sarcodus Arcadia. By the power vested in me as King of the Realm, I do so decree.” Sarcodus bowed. The Supreme Lord Commander was an imposing post in and of itself, but the Regent bore all of the power of the Throne of Lothanis. It was not a post handed out lightly – once vested by a King, it was binding until voluntary retirement or the death of the one holding the title. He hoped he would live long enough to see the former.

“Quite a show,” Jael chuckled. “Too bad there are no scribes to take it down, or Council members to put their stamp on it.”

“That can come later,” Lothane said, waving him off. “And as I recall, I don’t have to answer to their power. Now, as my second decree, let it be known that, as a reward for all of his years of loyal service...”

“Here he goes again,” Jael said, chuckling. Lothane shot him a heated glare, and he threw his hands up innocently. “I said nothing, little brother. By all means, please, carry on.” Lothane shook his head – some things never change – and continued.

“In reward for all of his years of loyal service,” he said, eying Jael the entire time. The graying man never spoke, though the mirth in his eyes betrayed his true feelings, “Atolibus Sandrin shall inherit the power of his former titles, though he does not wear their names, in perpetuity.”

“I believe I just handed those titles off,” he said.

“Yes, and for the moment, you are but a subject of Lothanis, and you will obey the will of your King,” Lothane replied, half in jest. Atolibus glared at him, radiating fury, but the King cut him off with a smile. When he continued he’d lost all semblance of gaiety. “My friend, you are, whether you will admit it or not, the rightful King of Lothanis, and the true Master of the Ten Realms.” Kristina shivered – she had not heard that term but once or twice in her lifetime, as it had not been used in over ten centuries, since before the fall of the Vorathi and the rise of the Shadow.

Atolibus blanched – he knew what that meant. The thought did not please him in the least – here he was, stepping down for the first time in a thousand years, and Lothane was preparing to saddle him with an even larger burden, perhaps the only larger burden there could be. If it wasn’t one thing it was another, he mused. “There will be a Concordance of the Monarchs, the first in a thousand years. Such an event has not occurred since your original investment as the Regent to the most powerful kingdom of the land. The messengers have all ready been sent on the best horses we can provide, and I’ve had mages herald their coming.”

“Back for but half a day, and all ready stirring up trouble,” Atolibus said. He was not pleased with this sudden turn of events, but in retrospect he could not say he hadn’t expected it.

“I intend to invest the first Master of the Ten Realms in over one thousand years, a position not filled since before your arrival in this land,” Lothane said. Even though there were only the five of them standing there, conversing, the proclamation had the weight of portent behind it.

“I step down from my post to continue my work quietly, the work that is necessary to rebuild this land and stop the threat of the Shadow from returning, and you shovel upon me an even greater burden than before?” he said to Lothane, incredulous. This was lunacy, sheer and utter madness. A year ago, he would have dismissed it out of hand. Now, after the return of the True King, he was not so sure. He could all ready imagine the propaganda campaign launched to garner support. It would draw out for weeks, until the mantle of authority was finally handed to him whether he wanted it or not. He decided to make their decision for them. “Very well. I accept your recommendation. At least when I am vested Master of the Ten Realms, I’ll be able to ignore any more foolishness you might wish to direct at me.” Lothane chuckled to himself.

“If you want to look at it from another perspective,” the king said, “this is simply putting a name to what you all ready were. As the Regent to this land, you carried more authority than any other king or queen in any of the Realms, anyways. As Supreme Lord Commander of the Armies of Lothanis, you commanded the most powerful army in the Realms. Now they will all be at your direct command... should you need to do so. The position of Master of the Ten Realms is not like any other post or nomination. It cannot be handed down, once vested – which I can assure you will happen, just as soon as the Concordance takes place. It cannot be laid aside through retirement, and it cannot be taken from you, by any law of any land. That is why it hasn’t been revived until now. It is a dangerous thing to do, because once you are appointed to your post, you become the highest authority in all of the lands, answerable to no-one. I know that’s something you’re fairly used to, all ready, but this is unlike what you served as before. Not only are you answerable only to yourself, you need only assert that authority when necessary.” A light began to shine in Atolibus’ mind.

“Meaning...” he said.

“Meaning that you are free to do as you please, when you please, as you wish,” the King said. “As I said to you, this is no different than before, but you are bound by no duty save those which you set yourself. This means you can step away from everything for a time, if you so desire. I am sure you’ve been looking forward to a chance to visit the Harris estates for some years, and your lovely young bride deserves a proper honeymoon.”

Atolibus smiled broadly – while they were handing him an obscene amount of authority, that very authority meant he was free to do as his heart desired. For the first time in his life, he could take a break from everything and simply be with the woman he loved as man and wife, even if only for a while. For he knew, more than anyone else, that darker shadows loomed on the horizon. The threat of the Magus was ended, and the power of the Shadow diminished, but both of those events had occurred in the past, only to rise up from the ashes more powerful than ever. He didn’t delude himself for a moment into thinking that everything was over.

“It would be nice to see Richter,” Atolibus said. “I haven’t seen the old fool in over three years. The letters have been few and far between, but I intend to change that.” He turned to his wife, the passion in his gaze smiting her with its heat. “You’ll love his estate, my love. He has everything you could wish for in land – mountains, lakes, orchards, and canyons. Anything you could wish to do can be done at the Harris estate. The Harris Manor itself is home to over six hundred rooms, some of them made with several feet of stone in between them.” The meaning of his words was not lost to her, and she smiled lasciviously in his direction.

“I think I’d like to test the stone walls of our rooms here, first,” she said. He displayed no outward physical response, but through her Gift she could feel the aura of his power blaze to life. It would have seared her eyes from their sockets, had it been visible.

“Don’t think I had forgotten you either, my dear,” Lothane said to Kristina. “I mean for you to keep that crown, and the power behind it. I do hope Atolibus doesn’t mind when I tell you that I am naming you Queen Regent to the Throne.” She smiled, stunned. In the last six months of her life, she had risen from a nobody in a visible yet powerless House, to one of the most powerful people in the land. Lothane took one last, long look at the crown in his hands before placing it atop his head. “This thing is different somehow... heavier.”

“It never gets any lighter,” Atolibus said.

And so it was that within a fortnight the Concordance of Monarchs took place, the first in over a thousand years, and Atolibus was named Master of the Ten Realms by unanimous decree. The meeting had taken place in the Grand Hall of the castle, and the Royal Councils for each land had been present to submit their acceptance of the decree. Under ancient Syreal law, Atolibus now had complete and sole authority in all matters of the Ten Realms. Standing in the center of the massive ring of tables that had been set up for this monumental occasion, he delivered his first decree as Master.

“First and foremost,” he said, voice clear and even, “let me ask for a moment of silence from everyone present, in remembrance of those lost to the War of the Shadow. Though it was brief, it nearly consumed us all.” He bowed his head in silence, and everyone assembled followed suit. After a moment, he raised his head and continued. “As you all know, I am no stranger to power. I also abhor it, and the trappings that follow it. As my first decree as Master of the Ten Realms, let it be known that no one shall speak to me as ‘your majesty’, ‘your grace’, ‘my liege’, or any other official title that I am now saddled with. I will accept my name as it has been for the last thousand years, my ancestral titles as Regent and Lord Commander, or a simple milord, whatever suits one best, but that’s the end of it.” Kristina smiled – she’d heard the same before, when he had originally accepted the throne of Lothanis in Lothane’s absence.

“So shall it be,” Lothane stated, acting as the lead representative for the Concordance. “Any decrees you wish to make will be accepted as law, my old friend. Are there any you wish to set forth at this time, or would you like some time to decide?”

“If anyone needs anything else from me,” he said, stepping out of the circle, wrapping an arm around Kristina’s shoulders, “they’ll have to wait, because I have a long overdue vacation in the offing, and my wife deserves her honeymoon. We’ll be at the Harris estate for a few weeks. See to it I am not disturbed, unless the world is coming to an end.” Lothane nodded, smiling broadly, and then turned to the members of the Concordance. There were other matters to discuss with every reigning King and Queen at hand, and there was no time like the present to hash things out. Atolibus felt Kristina’s arms wrap around his waist, lending support.

“It isn’t over, is it?” she said. He shook his head, a shadow of darkness crossing his features.

“Recall the first lines of the prophecy of the True King,” he said softly. “It’s just beginning, I’m afraid.”

Far into the frozen north of the Ten Realms a solitary man sat in silence, smiling broadly as his cloak whipped around in the deluge of wind and snow doing battle around him.

“At long last,” he said, laughing high and clear. “Thank you for staying true to form, old man. You’ve never managed to disappoint.” He took a deep breath of clean air, basking in the sensation of chaotic power flowing into and through him, spiraling upwards high beyond the edges of the sky in a twisting funnel of hungry darkness. He let his arms fall to his sides and his head tilt as he floated on currents of ecstasy and agony at the same time.

The clouds overhead began to part and the sun began to shine, an errant ray reflecting off of quicksilver eyes that danced with magic. “Centuries of waiting, a millennium of nothing but suffering and toil now complete.” A vicious grin curved his lips. “Soon, old man. Very, very soon.” He disappeared in a twist of teleportation, his laughter echoing across the whole of Syreal and beyond

So ends the First Act of The Reality Saga.

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