The Sovereign’s Saga: Part II Ep IV: Belief 

The air felt pristine and untainted, a luxury in times of madness and misery. It silently entered the cavernous space, bringing with it sounds and scents both imminent and afar, as much of the present as of recollections and dreams, illuminating portions of the vast blackness inside. The images reeled in one by one, revealing themselves in the glow, painting a canvas both coherent and chaotic in equal measures. The Sovereign, his eyes closed, looked at the cavern stoically, breathing in deep, taking in the sights and the sounds that were as real to him as the air that was purging him.

The first set of images that presented themselves were as much about his vicinity as of his own thoughts: the rustle of the leaves, the flutter of wings, the battering of gunfire… But with every deep breath, the Sovereign found himself losing more of his surroundings, until the cavern became his reality. The images were starting to get progressively darker now, and not even the pristine air could mask them. The Sovereign braced himself even as fear and trepidation had started to set in, for he knew where he was being led.

He found the Burnt Market deserted, the memory from many years ago now fading. He saw the pulpit, raised tall, much taller than he had remembered. He found a golden device hanging from it, with its umpteen dials, beckoning him. He stood still however, for he knew the image was not yet complete. The shot rang soon afterward and he saw Jermiaani holding the dead girl, amidst a crowd that had given up all hope. The Sovereign looked at the spreading circle of red, and waited for the rage to subside. He let go, and the morning in the Burnt Market turned pitch black, extinguishing the memory.

The glow now darted towards a different corner of the cavern. He saw the old man responsible, frail and yet resolute, studying the carpentry of a young lad and beaming. The Sovereign paused for a moment. He observed the dynamics between the two, and nodded silently to himself, making a mental note. He progressed through the cavern, looking for the next shard of reminiscence. He heard the collision much before he arrived at the scene. He saw Kerii, shivering but unfazed, aiding the Council member to safety, the latter still reeling with shock. The Council was important for the functioning of Carane, the Sovereign silently thought. Without it, the center of power could shift drastically.

He moved on. He knew what would come next. He found anxiety engulfing him, and he begged the cavern not to illuminate this image. The cavern obliged. He just heard the healers talking to each other, mumbling and whispering, for no one wanted to deliver him the news. Finally he heard Palmeida’s voice: “They’re no more”

Three of the ten councillors are dead, the Sovereign found himself saying. He breathed in deep to allow for the pain to recede, waiting for his mind to steel itself. Three out of ten was no small feat. They had been his brothers, his companions right from the days of the rebellion… And now they were gone. Fjor had steered clear of any implication. There hadn’t been a shred of evidence against him. The Sovereign found fury replacing the pain and yet he couldn’t act. For every action had consequences and the Sovereign knew better than to topple a house of cards. He could only plan, for now at least. It was maddening, he knew, but also essential.

But more than the wait, it was the haze surrounding it all that bothered him. He didn’t know if he would be victorious. If the gamble paid off, he would be touted as a shrewd leader. If not? He shook his head violently even as the cavern observed unmoved. No.. The Sovereign said to himself. This has to work.

“Meditating?” said a voice. The Sovereign saw the cavern disappear, gradually replaced by the lush green plains of Gravasa. It was morning once again. The Sovereign shook his head. “Just thinking” he said to Palmeida, without a hint of fear or doubt that had been so prominent in his thoughts a moment ago. He had made up his mind. “I want to call the council tomorrow. I shall invite Fjor also. I don’t want to wait any longer. It’s high time that we start discussing on his demands.”

Palmeida considered the Sovereign’s statement. “You had said he is not the real enemy” she said. “Do we know who is?”

The Sovereign shook his head, clearly in a thought of his own. “There is no point in waiting. There have been four of the nobles dead already. The fifth just barely survived. No… I can see the endgame forming. This will be a gamble and we may lose terribly. But it is a hand we must play now”

Palmeida nodded, her mind drawn back to the ward, the three councillors in front of her, reduced to mere bones from the savants that they had been. “Please tell me that this will work” she said to the Sovereign.

“I don’t know that” The Sovereign shook his head. “I just can’t know that.”

After a moment’s consideration, he spoke again, this time with the conviction of a leader that had traversed many a treacherous trail, a voice that was so true to his own self.

“But I believe”


The Sovereign’s Saga: Part II Ep III: Egalitarianism

The red door creaked open with a light push. Jermiaani canvassed the deserted street and its somber silence before casting his eyes back to the house. It was dark inside, covered in shades of brown, with light streaming in through a single musty window, making vain attempts at illumination. He pushed the door further and stepped in.

There was nothing odd about the contents of the house. It was all commonplace, all too familiar for Jermiaani – a house of poverty. “I have been expecting you” the voice said from behind. Jermiaani turned to witness the terror of the Burnt Market, the person who had led so many lives astray. His eyes fell upon a frail, elderly person, worn down by time, yet with a face full of sanguineness and optimism. Fjor Manar looked nothing like his reputation made him out to be. But Jermiaani knew better than to get deceived by appearances. He smiled back and sat in the chair Fjor had been pointing to. “Really? Expecting me for…?” he trailed off.

Fjor himself sat before answering. His old frame took time to land itself onto the chair. Jermiaani didn’t bother to help. Fjor sighed, once seated, and uttered: “This is regarding the investigation I assume.”

Jermiaani nodded. This was going to be a slow game of chess. “The death in the Burnt Market the other day. During the procession”

Fjor shook his head. “Most unfortunate. I am always shocked when the Gods take away someone so soon in their lives.” Jermiaani found rage boiling inside of him. It wasn’t the Gods that took her. It was you.

“She was young, wasn’t she?” Fjor continued when he got no answer.  Jermiaani nodded.

“Such a shame” Fjor shook his head. “I hope she did not suffer. I am so sick of suffering myself. It’s my age. My bones. I am weak. The Gods of time have defeated me. Unfortunately, I have no other option but to bear the suffering. My only hope for the world is that no one else suffers the way I do.”

Jermiaani said nothing. The shot was ringing in his mind, the scampering of people, the chaos. He knew that Fjor had been involved. Restraining his anger to his inner self, Jermiaani asked. “What can you tell me about that day?”

“I was there in the market myself. The procession was unlike anything we had ever seen. So many nobility, all at once – and that too in the Burnt Market?” Fjor smiled. “Now that is a sight you don’t often get to see.” He paused. “In fact, in my eighty-three years of existence, I have probably interacted with the nobility twice.” He smiled now. “Do they not like the dirty streets of Carane?”

Jermiaani sensed the pain behind the sanguine face. The inferiority, the desire for attention, the jealousy. He was wary of the game that they were playing. Kerii was the one skilled at verbal negotiations. The Sovereign should have probably sent her.

“I am a lowly person myself” Jermiaani said. “I am not the nobility to know their likes or dislikes”

“But you do work for them” Fjor said immediately, his eyes glinting with a shrewdness that had been absent thus far. “You are – what is the right word – the Sovereign’s hatchet man. You are not part of his established government, and you are sent for handling the more disagreeable tasks, that his government isn’t equipped to handle. I have heard other names for you – pet dog, traitor, murderer…”

Jermiaani sneered but turned it into a smile just in time. He couldn’t afford to lose his cool.

“So tell me something” Fjor continued “Why do you continue to work for people who continue to think they are superior to you?” He leaned back in his chair. “These people don’t understand poverty. They don’t understand you. To them, you are just another puppet. They will cut the strings off your back the moment they are done with you.”

Fjor had paused, expecting to elicit the reaction out of Jermiaani. Jermiaani was genuinely smiling now. Fjor’s vehemence was so misplaced, that Jermiaani couldn’t help but notice his own underlying frustration beneath. “The nobility of Carane has taken care of this country for ages” Jermiaani now answered. “They have been working to improve the lives and the livelihoods of the entire nation. And they have succeeded to a large extent. The country’s welfare is always taken care of – the poor are always ensured food and shelter, a place to learn, a place to pray. Labor is granted to them when needed, they are given umpteen opportunities to earn the living that they would want for themselves. I was poor too, when they found me” Jermiaani continued. “But they have not made me feel it.” He paused. Something tells me you have felt it though.

“Shall we get back to the investigation?” Jermiaani asked. “You were describing the day of the death.”

The door opened and another person stepped in. “This is Gaspare” Fjor introduced the young man to Jermiaani. “He is a carpenter by profession. He works with me.” He pointed to the room beyond. “We make the furniture back there” Jermiaani turned around and nodded. “So, the day of the procession -”

Fjor continued to stare at the room beyond though. “I have always believed in carpentry” He smiled. “It’s the perfect way to earn an honest living. I am over eighty now, I have stood the time of three empires. Armyan the III, Averrincin’s and now your Sovereign’s. You know what I have realized? They all have something very much in common. You know what that is?” he asked Jermiaani, madness in his eyes.

He didn’t wait for an answer though. “In each of the empires, there has always been a working class society and an elite society. Now – the elite have always put forth promises that working class may be able to join them in the ranks through hard work.” He paused. “I am old, about to die any day now. And still here. What does that tell you?”

“That you are a failure. And you are pinning it on the society because you see no hope for any change of fortune. And you are amassing the poor of the Market, filling their head with delusions of your own. Attempting to be victorious at least once in your life” Jermiaani paused. “Who would want a vain death after all”

Fjor laughed; a mad, rabid laugh.  “I will not deny that. Although you have no proof to tie me with any of it. I would be rotting in Carsanion prison otherwise.” He said. He continued to nod at Jermiaani for several more seconds, without saying anything. Jermiaani had noticed too many of his kind to get perturbed.

“Do you know what I want?” Fjor said finally, his eyes wide, his frail body trembling with purpose.

Jermiaani had had enough. “You want an empire where the weak and the desperate like you don’t have to work, where opportunities are brought to you on a silver platter, where you get to become nobility without having either the intelligence or the grit for becoming one…” It was Jermiaani’s turn to laugh now. “No empire can accommodate this. Because what you’re asking for isn’t equality – you want a preferred status without having to earn it. This can never happen.”

Fjor looked at Jermiaani with the wide, frail eyes, unblinking. “Fine then – be a good dog and go tell your Sovereign that the nobility will continue to suffer their current fate. The death in the procession was the first one – until the poor of Carane become more powerful than the elite, I shall not rest. Let me see how long it takes for the Sovereign to wash their blood off his hands”

Jermiaani knew better than to kill him then. Even though he truly wanted to. He is just a pawn. We need answers. “The poor of Carane don’t share your vision” Jermiaani then said. “It’s a handful of desperate, miserable people – like yourself, that you have managed to amass. And a handful of naïve others. If you think that together, you can bring down an empire – you are mistaken”

Fjor smiled, still unblinking. “I might be. But I have nothing to lose”

Jermiaani rose from his chair. “Enjoy your time in this house Fjor. I shall be paying you a visit even if I hear rumors of another death.” He looked at the far end, the other room where the youth had started to work. “For your sake, I hope it doesn’t happen. Because proof or not – I will make you pay” And then he added as he was leaving. “Everyone has something to lose.”

Fjor considered the statement, and then burst into long, hysterical laughs, his fragile form quivering with excitement.


The Sovereign’s Saga: Part II Ep II: The Truth among the Shadows

The procession had been slow-moving right from the start. It had been a long column of people filing through the tortuous and snake-like street, their faces full of optimism and joy. Ignorant of the scorching afternoon sun, the nobility had proceeded on, elucidating their cause to the locals, gathering their support. The onlookers at the Burnt Market had gazed with their eyes wide open, for they had never seen such flair, felt such privilege or known the possibilities of leading such lives before. Jermiaani had smiled to himself as they had marched on. He had stood at the head of the procession, not with the intent of leading it, for such a thought was beyond him. No, he had had a simpler task at hand. And he had failed.

The shot had thundered through the prevalent hum of the procession, dissembling the joy and laughter that had been so prominent just an instant before. Jermiaani had looked around, trying to fight the commotion that had ensued, trying to track the murderer, even before he had consciously realized that a person had indeed died. The assailant could nowhere be seen. Jermiaani had turned back, knowing the value of every passing second, but it had already been too late. From between the gaps in the scampering people, he could faintly see the pool of red already spreading. The victim had moved away from the clutches of this world. She lay there expressionless, the shot having released her before any comprehension had dawned.

Jermiaani had taken her to the Sovereign, who had sat beside her unspoken, even as time had passed and people had come and gone, having paid their respects. Jermiaani had not noticed their fear, as the Sovereign had. The grief had consumed him whole. Later, after they had all departed, he had dared speak to the Sovereign.

“I have failed you” he had said. “You had tasked me with their protection. But…” his voice had trailed off.

The Sovereign had considered for a long moment before speaking. He had then replied, his eyes still on the cold, lifeless figure in front of him. “It will pass. We will see the true light of things. But now – we must focus. The enemy shall strike again, and soon enough. We need to be prepared”

He had nodded then, his mind still in the Burnt Market, still amidst the scampering people, his ears still ringing with the shot. This time as he had reached the victim, she had been alive, gasping, choking in her last moments. She had attempted to raise her hand, and had barely succeeded. It had been enough for Jermiaani, who had dashed in the pointed direction, a deluge of rage in his mind. But then the crowd had dissolved away, as had the cries of the commotion, and there had stood only one figure in front of him.

“So what you seek – is your own self?” The voice cut through the image, shredding the memory for now. Jermiaani looked up, distracted. It was afternoon again in the Burnt Market. There was no commotion though, no thunder, just the simple existence of the local vendors. The shopkeeper who had uttered the words stood in front of him, looking curiously.

When Jermiaani hadn’t responded, the shopkeeper spoke again. “You have been staring at the mirror for the past few minutes. You are either looking at the street behind or you are fascinated with your own self.” The shopkeeper guffawed at his own intelligence. Jermiaani gave him a weak smile. He had indeed been looking at the street. Looking for what, he couldn’t say. Clues, perhaps. Either to unravel the death. Or for the sake of his own sanity. He wanted to believe it were the former. But the mirror showed him the reality of his true self just as many times as it showed the street behind.

“I am actually looking for a specific vendor” he told the shopkeeper. “Can you help me find him?”

The sanguineness of the shopkeeper evaporated when he heard the name. With a somber expression he pointed. “The seventh lane to your right at the far end of the Market street. Look for a red door”

There are strong undercurrents in the Burnt Market these days. Lot more happening than the common eye can fathom. I see treachery building, the fear rising. A powerful foe is emerging from the shadows. This death is only the first. Their cause is much bigger, their ambition much stronger.

The Sovereign’s words spun in Jermiaani’s mind as he reached the alley he was looking for. The shops had already been thinning as he had moved closer and closer to his destination, replaced by houses instead. The people that saw him approach hurriedly skulked away. This part of the Burnt Market was clearly not a welcome destination. Their lives have changed, the words echoed again. Festered this past year with the onset of this man. The Market isn’t what it once was, full of optimism and camaraderie. On the surface, you may still see the resemblance, but if you look closely, you will see it for what it truly has become.

The voices and the clamor of the market had also been progressively dying out, and as Jermiaani stood at the entrance of the desired alley, he could scarcely hear anything. Occasionally he thought he heard faint callings, voices from places left far behind:  a woman looking for her child, the creaking of wooden trading carts, the echoes of a gong.

A door opened somewhere directly behind him. And before he could turn, it had slammed shut. Fear has truly become pervasive here. Regardless, he stepped forward, avoiding the scampering crowd, avoiding their cries and their yells, his mind focused on the only thing important, even as he saw the pool of red widening…

Remember – this man is not the key to the problem. He is merely a pawn. Albeit a pawn that has progressed considerably. We need answers, not deaths.

Jermiaani nodded, even as the red door of his destination appeared closer and closer, and he felt the answers coming. He raised his arm to knock.


The Sovereign’s Saga: Part II Ep I: Grief

Death, by itself, is meaningless… The long-lost words emerged from the black abyss, growing strength to strength, fighting a flood of countless other thoughts, memories and emotions that surged within, strangely captivating the Sovereign’s wrecked mind, even as he sat absently on his knees, crushed and defeated, clutching the pale, cold and lifeless body that lay in front of him, hoping that his presence would breathe some life back into it, hoping that he indeed had some of the godliness that the Carsanions attributed so often to him.

The body remained cold however. Waves of thoughts crashed on the shore of the Sovereign’s mind, now disbelief, now shock, now anguish, now rage – each subsiding to give way to the other, each carrying with it numerous flashes of reminiscences, which now lay strewn on the desolate shore, waiting to be discarded. Faint murmurs brought the Sovereign back from his mind and shackled him to the reality that lay before him. He was vaguely aware that he was not alone, although his mind was elsewhere – linking the past occurrences with the present reality. Death by itself is meaningless… The words came again and then vanished, fading away as the murmurs approached nearer. Voices around the Sovereign, both known and unknown, expressed their sympathies, and he nodded in acknowledgement, each time detecting a shared pattern – the whiff of fear and uncertainty in the words; a new addition to the blatant hollowness that the Sovereign had grown so accustomed to hearing. Not that it was unexpected – the Sovereign understood where the fear stemmed from; it was a fear of their own safety – in an empire where the death loomed so high even above the people with the most power. It was a selfish fear, Sovereign knew, but he nodded silently to their sympathies, unmoved, processing every person’s manner and filing it away for later use.

Outwardly stoic and pondering, he was back on the shore now, looking among the reminiscences that lay scattered, searching desperately for the key that would release his shackles. The one memory, which had the answer to his great pain, still lay forgotten somewhere in the crevices of his mind. It couldn’t be seen on the shore, but then again, he had miles to travel to cover its expanse. He didn’t have much time, he knew. He had to be functional once again – and the grief was weighing him down, killing him slowly yet steadily. The murderers were currently formulating the next plan of assail, he was quite sure of that; he had to have his wits about him if he had any hope of foiling them.

Death by itself is meaningless… he recited the key to himself, as he sat on the shore, looking beyond the setting sun, even as the waves of rage and misery continued to lash at him. His breathing soon became irregular, and he started shuddering, the weight of the circumstances falling down on him, crushing all his will and determination. Strangely however, he wouldn’t give up. The setting sun then started to change course, rising higher and higher, until it was morning again. The shore vanished and so did the waves, replaced by the encampment where death was so familiar. The Sovereign was walking through the rocks and the artillery now, sidestepping the bodies that he saw – the product of war, the souls that the rebellion had claimed. “So many deaths…” a voice said beside him. He turned to see Jermiaani inspecting the mutilation. The Sovereign had nodded to him, distressed at the outcome that lay in front of him. He had started down the path for justice, brave and knowledgeable of the price, but the massacre was proving to him that he had much to learn. For knowing and living were two different things – and while he had known, only now was he getting to live death.

The encampment then vanished, replaced by the long halls of the Tower of Dawn. And then the Sovereign heard the voice, oddly like his own self, but stronger and surer. “Death by itself is meaningless. Always look upon it in the context of greater things, disassociated from every emotion. Always question “why”, for it is the reason that defines death, that unveils its true nature. And once the cause is understood – all that remains is to stand up to that cause, with every piece of strength left, until it yields to you; until you prove to it that you are beyond the miseries of life. Logic trumps all. Dissociate every emotion from logic – and you will see life for what it is. And then – you will have risen.”

The Tower of Dawn faded away, as another voice was heard. “My Sovereign?” Vyanaar was back now, back in the reality, back to the present, but unconstrained and unshackled. He turned to see Jermiaani beside him, his voice full of pain, clearly still grieving over the terrible loss. The Sovereign looked at the body that lay in front of him, the countless memories and emotions still swirling inside but not drowning him anymore. “It is a matter of time, Jermiaani. We will all get over this. But now – we must focus. The enemy shall strike again, and soon enough. We need to be ready. We need to think the scenarios through. The conflict has only just begun.”

Jermiaani looked at his Sovereign. He saw the colossal strength, unfazed and unperturbed even under such trying circumstances. He couldn’t understand how such strength could be possible. He bent his head low. “Orders”


The Sovereign’s Saga: Part I Ep IX: Ashes

For a split second, Vyanaar could only hear his own footsteps, as he raced towards the abandoned truck, and slid behind it, waiting and listening. The sound of the explosion renewed his faith that his senses were still up. He turned to see the impact of the blast. Two trucks had overturned. Cars around had slid far away from their initial mark, their windows shattered with the blow, and the glass lay melting on the surface. Vyanaar’s radio buzzed to life. “Sovereign – respond. What’s the status?” Kerii asked.

“The barricade is clear. I repeat the barricade is clear. Sending the team now” He gestured towards the five people scattered across the desolate street, who now moved rapidly towards the explosion. The Sovereign joined them, shifting his glances as rapidly as he could, from the street to the windows overhead to the terraces, to the abandoned vehicles and back to the street again. He could hear distant gunfire and felt the tremors when tanks and bombs went off, but he could gauge that they were still far off. His team was in the clear. At least for now.

Vyanaar reached for his helmet and spoke into the radio. “Jermiaani – what’s the status of the Bravo team. I can hear tanks going off in the distance.” He tried to spot people from the team from amid the cracks in the buildings that expanded his view to many streets further. All he saw was the Arvallian force moving, their guns firing at people unknown, the buildings and monuments shattered. At least the ruins gave enough protection, thought the Sovereign. It was easier to use the debris for stealth.

“We are behind you on the opposite flank” came back Jermiaani’s voice, breaking static every few seconds. “I am on the roof, sniping my way through. I can see you.” The Sovereign turned around to catch sight but couldn’t trace the voice. “No point in turning. I am too high up. You won’t see me. Continue on.” The Sovereign had noticed something though, in the far off distance. He barked in the radio “Get off the roofs. All of you. I see a drone fleet coming in from where I stand.”

“Kerii -” he thundered in the radio. “You’re in the control center for a reason. You are supposed to keep surveilling the area for this.” There was silence for too long before the reply came back. “I am sorry. It’s a blind spot. They are still far away for surveillance radius to detect them. You happened to see blips. I have turned the equipment now to get a better understanding of the force. I see 4 jets. Mostly – no pilots.”

“I need a better answer than that” said the Sovereign. “No pilots” came the reply after 10 seconds. “Confirmed”. The Sovereign nodded – “Okay. Great. Jermiaani – engage the people in your team on that. I need those drones down before they are within vicinity of the damage.”  “On it” replied Jermiaani. The Sovereign nodded to his own team and they continued to proceed forward.  Today would be a pivotal day in the rebellion. If all proceeded as expected, we could transform from rebels to heroes.

The Sovereign heard a soft whirring and buzzing as the wind whistled by. It was enough for him to understand. “Take cover – incoming gunfire” he shouted to his team.  The team hid behind battered walls and used the abandoned cars as embankments, shooting and talking at once, trying to get a sense of the enemy guns and their locations. The Sovereign changed his primary and equipped it with the lens in his backpack. He saw two people aiming behind a dirt embankment. He shot one through the head as he was aiming. The other ducked too soon.

Not that it mattered. The gunfire was streaming in from at least three directions now. He looked at his team as they took down people one after the other, even as the numbers kept increasing. War was patriotism for them, he thought blankly, even as he took aim and shot the second target through the neck. Anything for the right cause.

That was good. He truly needed patriots now. The people of Carane were divided into factions. More bullets whizzed by. He killed the last one on the roof in front of him. In a blur, he told his team to move in the direction that had been cleared out. There were those that felt that the rebels were a scourge, fighting for glory and power. But there were those that understood the reality of the situation. That the empire of Carane had been in ruins for many years before the war in the rebellion had begun, destroyed by the Arvallians. Sovereign’s forces were only trying to bring justice back to the society – justice in it’s true form, not just a semblance.

It didn’t matter. “Vyanaar-” the radio came back to life. “We took the jets down but I see at least 3 more coming your way from the far side. We won’t be able to get to you in time.” The Sovereign looked up and tried to hear the planes. He couldn’t – that meant they still had time. “Thanks Jermiaani” he replied. “We will keep an eye out”

The goal for the day was not far off. The building called The Archive, lay a few streets away. If only we could reach the vaults… “No – you don’t understand” Jermiaani replied from the other end. “These aren’t normal drones-”

Jermiaani needn’t have to complete his thought even though the line gave out to static. The Sovereign felt the tremors soon enough, increasing in magnitude with every second. The drones were bombing all along the way, they had probably cleared out the block of the Arvallian’s own forces. He nodded to the team. “Abort.” He had a pit in his stomach – Freedom would have to wait.

The drones surveyed the debacle after the bombings had stopped. Their scanners hit the ruins for biometric signatures; indeed, the Arvallian forces had destroyed a large part of their own city to achieve their goal. They had received word that the Sovereign himself had been fighting in this area. If that were true, then the ruins from the bombings were a low price. The rebellion would end without the Sovereign. But it was all in vain – for the drones couldn’t find the bodies in the ashes.  Hundereds of miles below, the Sovereign and his team moved through the intricate series of underground tunnels, known only to the Carsanions, stretching from one end of Carane to the other, hoping that the maze would remain undiscovered…, and praying for the day when they would be able to traverse above ground, their head held high…


Author’s Note: This post ‘Ashes’ marks the end of the ‘season 1’ series of 9 posts, if you will, of the Empire of Carane series. See you all in season 2…


The Sovereign’s Saga: Part I Ep VIII: Ambition

The sound of the gong reverberated through the empty hallways of the Laize Soraman, or the Tower of Dawn as it was so-often called, sending the perched birds in flight, an entire empire beneath them, seemingly calm and serene tonight, deprived of its war-torn state, dazzling under the massive moon with the hopefulness of peace, a promise that hung high in the air.

The gong reached Palmeida a few seconds after its inception, where she stood at the balcony of the Tower, gazing at her world below, and seeing not the dazzle of an empire or the hopefulness of peace; instead she saw a pause – a time suspended between the sways of the pendulum, where destruction lay at both ends, and this brief time, this ether, was all there was – all the peace that this empire – that any empire would find.

It was just the law of nature, it occurred to her, for war and peace to alternate in the sands of time. Indeed, history had been observant of the shifting sands, where empires had risen, colossal in sight, and fallen, ashes once more, the fabric of time stitching war and peace as alternates, but the fabric itself being eternal, consequently something neither war nor peace could bear forever. However, despite her morbid thoughts on the future, she was happy that the pendulum was suspended for now, and a smile crept upon her, and she sighed, reveling in the moonlight, and praying, she didn’t know to whom, for the pendulum to remain suspended.

The second gong sounded, and Palmeida turned, not at the sound of the gong, but at the soft tune which had begun floating, almost invisible behind the gong, but becoming more distinct by the instant. Instinctively and unthinking, she moved towards the source. It was a tune she had heard many times before; it bore the sounds of life, of joy, of revel interspersed with darkness and madness and grief, finally resting in wisdom, in drive, in ambition. She listened to it in its entirety, engrossed and in imbibition, and only once the final strokes had been pressed did she enter the room.

The Sovereign, Vyanaar Tark, heard the applause before he saw her enter the room. He smiled, and took a bow. “Still awake?”, she asked as the stepped into dim incandescence of the room.  “So are you…” replied Vyanaar.  Palmeida laughed. “Yeah… It’s beautiful out there tonight, isn’t it?” Vyanaar nodded. “Peace is always beautiful…” and after a pause “Also, always elusive…”

“Yes indeed…” said Palmeida. “I was just thinking the same… Heard anything from Kerii yet?”

The Sovereign shook his head. “The last I heard was a few days ago. About the emperor signing over the Vatarian empire. I am not expecting any new communication. Anything else would indicate something being wrong. So… silence, in this case, is truly gold…”

Palmeida nodded in silent agreement. “I wonder how long the peace will last though…”

“Well, ‘factually’ speaking – the emperor won’t have enough military strength to wage another attack. And since we own most of his dominion – he won’t bother to… But, ‘philosophically’ speaking – peace for Carane could end tomorrow with a new foe…”

“The Vatarian war was horrid enough” Palmeida shivered.

“Not quite” said the Sovereign. “Jankaha was the only state that they managed to capture. A miniscule borderland compared to the vast Carane, and inhabited only by tribes – and there too we managed to minimize our damage by taking everyone underground and having the planes fly in regularly with supplies. No – this was but a shadow of a war, even their attempts at assassination were half-baked” he said with a smile.

“Not funny” For a moment, Palmeida was transported back to the interrogation room, with its dazzling white walls, the misshapen clock, and the assassin’s screams…

“No.. the real war had happened many years ago” The Sovereign’s voice brought her back. “There were two of them actually – The Great War, which Armyan the III had fought… And the rebellion…”

“…In which you had fought” Palmeida completed the sentence. She shook her head. “Yes those were truly adverse times, no word can truly define the darkness of those years …”

The Sovereign nodded. “But it taught me a lot of things. It brought me the mental strength that I needed to become a ruler. It taught me to be immensely patient. And it showed me my true purpose in life. And…” he took her hand. “…it brought me everyone that is dear to me today. You, Jermiaani, Kerii… Each of you joined me at a different point in the rebellion. When I had started, I had started alone… The rebellion took a lot from me… But I am ‘The Sovereign’ today because of it, not just ‘Vyanaar Tark’ ”

Palmeida nodded comprehending.  “And what defines ‘The Sovereign’?” she asked smilingly.

“It’s just like the tune I was playing before…” The Sovereign started to play again. “…life begins with hopefulness, with earnest eyes, with empathy… And then ambition strikes, juvenile at first and bordered on the trivialities of life, but it teaches you things… Some of the intricacies of life… You begin to see the world beyond and you grow pessimistic, cynical even… This is where most of the lives stop… But this is not the end – no, this is only the chasm, the gulf – between how you begin life and how you choose to end it… And it here that you identify your true purpose in life, the drive, the ambition, not bordered on trivialities this time but fueled by the wisdom and sagacity to make the world a better place, and the abundant strength that you derive from this coupled with the intellect you have by now… This is enough to make your mark on the world, take you to dizzying heights – not for the power or vanity it may bring with it – but because from that pedestal you can truly make a difference.”

“This is what the rebellion taught you” Palmeida said “The many years in misery went on to create something beautiful for the world. It gave them a great ruler.”

Vyanaar nodded, without a hint of arrogance. Without being proud or insolent, just purely acknowledging the fact.

“And that is what defines the Sovereign…” he pondered, his fingers still on the keys, the music still afloat.

“You should chronicle it all sometime…” Palmeida said smilingly. “The many years of the rebellion, the darkness, the war, your origin, the decline of the empire, the rise of the Sovereign, the beginning of a new era…  It would serve as a beacon of strength to others. It would teach them a lot of things. Like it has taught you. Most of Carane believes you are some sort of God, born in greatness. But the truth is you have built yourself this way… over the many years… and you are still not there yet, if you ask me.”

Vyanaar laughed. “All right… And what would you have me call this story, this ‘chronicle’ that you speak of?” He stopped playing the music, looking expectantly at her.

“The Sovereign’s Ambition” she said.


The Sovereign’s Saga: Part I Ep VII: The Diplomat

Kerii Shys, the diplomat from Carane, descended down the wide metallic staircase of the Vatarian hangar, oblivious to the bellows of the countless airplanes behind her, her mind solely focused on the near impossible task assigned to her today. This war must end. She had been repeating the words over and over, internalizing the orders, even as their gravity and significance alighted on her anew with every recital, sinking in her further and further, and drowning her further into the chasm of her own fears, even as she tried to remain afloat.

Unbidden and unforeseen, a train of thoughts broke into her mind. This is it, the Sovereign had continued, as they had discussed her orders a few hours earlier. The endgame. Our final few moves… That will decide whether we win the war… He had paused. Or die…  Kerii had comprehended then, and she had sat stoically throughout the discussion, listening with rapt attention, as the Sovereign had laid out the strategy for winning the war against the Vatarian Empire. The talks must go exactly as planned… And then he had concluded. It rests on you.

Kerii had nodded, stoically again, her face masking both her joy and her fears. As she had turned to leave, he had made a last comment. I hope you understand the danger associated with this… Keri had nodded again. Of course she did. The Sovereign had considered her for a long moment, and then added – Jermiaani will go with you. Keri had felt incredulous, ludicrous even, and had turned behind to consider the Sovereign’s pet dog as he stood by the door. However, it hadn’t been up for discussion.

She looked at him now as she descended the wide metallic staircase of the Vatarian Hangar. She saw a lowly scum, unsuited for such an enterprise. He looked back at her, and if she could read thoughts – she would have seen the despise from this “dog”, who felt she had abused her aristocracy and reached the level of a diplomat through nothing short of nepotism. The Sovereign would have smiled at both these accusations – they were incorrect of course, but very insightful.

Kerii had been too preoccupied to understand the dog’s thoughts, however, and she gave him a curt “Wait here”, as she searched for the conduct who would take her to the Vatarian emperor. She found the convoy of vehicles at the south side. “The Emperor awaits” said the attendant, as she opened the car door. It rests on you.

“You have been very busy, my dear lord” said Kerii to Emperor Gixa, as they sat in a military tower overlooking the immense Sila river, the diplomatic negotiations already cratered. The masks of diplomacy and of hypocrisy, as Jermiaani would have put it, had dropped more and more these past weeks, and the negotiations had turn tumultuous turns, and now had reached a state where the fangs lay bare. The peril of the current situation made him very nervous.  Peace seemed impossible now. Some would have attributed the failure of peace to Kerii. She had been too forthright in the negotiations right from their start, not reading the emperor’s asks, failing to achieve common ground, unyielding and immovable, almost non-diplomatic. Some would have said that the aristocracy had shown its true colours, and that merit could nowhere be found in this diplomat, and that she had botched up perfectly possible solutions, and was single-handedly responsible for the rest of the deaths the war would bring.

Kerii, well aware of all of this, remained unfazed as she continued to challenge the emperor. It rests on you. “You have been busy” she said again. “You have been deliberately trying to push the borders of your own empire by impinging on ours. You turned Jankaha into a battlefield, driving the people from their homes, clearing out their land and establishing camps of your own. You have been sending spies into Carane, trying to infiltrate our intelligence. And lastly, you have made three assassination attempts at our Sovereign. Now…” she said, moving further upright, asserting her dominance over the situation “you should be surprised that we are giving any peace terms at all. We could come in and destroy you at any minute – Carane has both the ordnance and the coffers to pull it off. Bend the knee my lord, and our Sovereign will still let you live. You will get to keep a portion of the Vatarian empire, and the rest of it will be signed over to the government of Carane for safekeeping. These are our final terms.”

The next thirty seconds would remain engraved in Kerii’s mind for many years to come, and she would look back on this time for strength, during times just as dark. The gun roared and the flash caught her off-guard, sending her into a shock, even though she had been expecting the consequence. She then felt the difference between understanding death as concept and knowing it as reality, even as the bullet moved towards her, and the emperor’s face broke a smile, the madness of power visible on his face.

It faded away soon enough, and the emperor looked upon dazed at the bullet that had been stopped in mid-air. The gun fell from his hand. Jermiaani’s arm was raised, a device upon his palm, emitting a blue aura and a whirring sound. “Carsanion tech” Kerii called out to the stunned emperor, regaining her own composure, the bullet still suspended in mid-air. She tried hard not to break into a smile. It rests on you… The talks must go exactly as planned… If Carane gets a hold of the Vatarian Empire, we are sure to avoid war for another fifty years at least. Possibly more. We have a chance at everlasting peace. But we are no invaders. We will have to show the world that the emperor left us with no choice. The negotiations must fail…

And what better way to fail the negotiations than to shoot at the diplomat of the country offering peace, thought Kerii. She had provoked him, prodded him for weeks now and she could see her masterpiece unravel in the spinning bullet that waited patiently as the truth of the matter dawned on the emperor. He had underestimated her every step of the way. She was too young a diplomat and had seemed like a child in her negotiations, and he had investigated her background – she had struck him a high-born with no merit, gotten in purely by name. He could now see that it was the desired effect. The Sovereign had picked the right person for the job.

Kerii rose, the emperor still dazed. “You will be given 48 hours to comply with our terms. Post that, the Carsanion force will breach the Vatarian empire and you will be taken into custody. You choose.” She nodded at Jermiaani, a silent nod of thanks. He acknowledged, and escorted her out, flicking his wrist as he left. The bullet dropped to the wooden floor, and stayed there motionless, a sign of coming times.


The Sovereign’s Saga: Part I Ep VI: The Monastery

The full moon shone upon the Peraath valley of Carane with all its sagacity. It seemed to smile, its smile full of sadness, for it had noticed the Peraath valley for many years now, and observed its sole occupant and visitor for just as long.  The green valley grass bristled in the cool night wind, alternating between blue and black but never conforming to its true color. Jermiaani Sisccita sat rooted in the landed plane, looking at the monastery in the distance, although barely visible in the sea of blue around it, marked only by the tall single flame that still burned, despite every attempt that the wind made at blowing it away.

The flame had been consistently ablaze for as long as Jermiaani remembered. It was unnatural for sure – greenish-blue in nature, it gave no heat, but charred beyond recognition anything that touched it. The animals around the valley had learnt to avoid it, they seemed to understand that it was unusual, abnormal… As for the people, they remained gloriously ignorant of the abnormal flame… and of the monastery and its sole occupant. Nobody had stepped into the valley for years now, for the valley had been deemed uninhabitable. Every attempt at colonizing the valley had died a miserable death. The people more so.

The place had been considered cursed and the people had moved on… to better yielding lands and healthier lives… and the monastery, deep in the crevices of the hills that made the valley, had never been discovered. Jermiaani had often wondered if there had indeed been science behind the fate that the colonies in the valley had suffered. There must have been, always came the reply. Even now, as he looked at the greenish-blue glow in the distance, he refused to believe the alternative.  No.. he convinced himself. She would never…

The thought trailed off. It was replaced with the sound of the scraping of wood, with the smell of the morning dew, with the sight of a small boat full of hope, and with the dreams of a young boy to sail away. Far, far away… came the voice. Where none know me and I know none… Then the smell of the morning dew vanished, and instead was replaced by the touch of cold, damp wood as the door had creaked open, revealing the pool within. A pool of red, Jermiaani remembered, with ruins of white and blue. The moon had settled in the darkness of the room. It had shone upon him that fateful night just as brightly as it shone upon him today.

Jermiaani didn’t remember getting out of the plane. He didn’t remember walking through the thicket, through the blue grass, the cool night wind twisting at his feet. He didn’t remember crossing the unnatural flame, passing through the crevice, beating at the colossal doors… He did remember her though, as she had opened the door. She looked just the same as he had first seen her, oblivious to the laws of time.  Divine – was the right word. Others would not have been so kind in their choice of words for her. But then, others would have been wrong.

She smiled at him – her sole visitor, since as far as she could remember. Here was a person who had courage to be at her doorstep, unshackled by norms, unshackled by society’s fears, although troubled by fears of his own… She knew that was the only reason he was here – to aid his own soul, but it comforted her nevertheless – knowing that there was one… at least… who saw her for her true self.

“Back in the moonlit room?” she asked knowingly.

Jermiaani nodded, with the familiar vulnerability, he was accustomed to around her.

If there was someone who truly knew him, it was her. The Sovereign had known of the events, he had known where Jermiaani had come from, what state he had been in. The Sovereign had helped him through all of that… and for that Jermiaani would be eternally grateful. But the Sovereign just didn’t understand. The shape of his mind, his darkest moments, his biggest fears… No… if there was someone who truly understood him – then it was her. Just her.

“The war is showing no signs of stopping” he said to her. “I can’t have these visions bothering me. I need to be… functional”

“Your ‘Sovereign’ won’t approve of this method” she said to him, stepping aside to let him in.

You will need to steel your mind, the Sovereign had said.

“I need to be functional if I am to serve Carane” Jermiaani replied. “And if I am to serve him.” The colossal doors creaked to a close behind him. “And anyways – if I were him, I’d have other things to worry about”


The Sovereign’s Saga: Part I Ep V: The Burnt Market

The music came in first – soft, flute-like, although the Sovereign couldn’t really place the instrument. Probably because he had heard this tune just once before – but it had been carved deep in his mind. Why, he wondered. He got no answer. His eyes closed, he decided to listen intently. One by one, the senses trickled in: the creaking of a wooden wheel, the smell of oranges, quick padded footfall, a child’s laughter, the bustle of the street, the bright sunshine he felt on his face, a scream… The Sovereign shook his head, distressed.  No… This was a happy place. He continued on his journey: the musty smell of carpets, the bells of the licorice carts, someone tugging at his leg…

He opened his eyes. A child was looking intently at him, probably no older than five, her palm opened, the other hand pointing to the cart with the bells the Sovereign had just heard. Comprehending, he reached inside of his pocket and placed the coin in the child’s open palm. Giddy, she raced towards the cart, which was developing its own tiny crowd around it. The Sovereign laid his attention back on the street.

This was decidedly many years ago, much before the Sovereign had come into his true self. Much before the command of an empire had alighted on him. The Sovereign today was wide-eyed, his bare feet boiling in the sands of Carane as he stood at the entrance of The Burnt Market, watching the hustle with a keen eye, taking in everything – the overpowering aroma of spices and perfumes, the countless people that thronged the busy street, their voices and their noises, children running about. The Sovereign breathed in deep and beamed, his mind soaking in the optimism around him. This was decidedly a happy place.

Now that he understood where he was, he searched for his purpose. Why had he been brought here? He looked around, trying to find answers. The sights gave him none. He decided to move forward nevertheless, hoping that in due time, the answers would present themselves. As he moved, he inspected the carts and the stalls, while each vendor used his own flair to persuade a purchase. The Sovereign smiled, and ended up buying a souvenir – a timekeeping device, golden in nature, with umpteen dials that neither he nor the vendor could understand the significance of. Not that it stopped the vendor from inventing a story around it. But it was exquisite looking, unlike anything the Sovereign had ever seen. And so it had landed with him. He moved on – the Burnt Market was a long-winded street, perhaps the longest in Carane, and something told the Sovereign that he did not have much time.

Contrary to its name, the Burnt Market did not have a tragic past attached to it. It had been named so by its benevolent customers and fellow travelers – who jested that all the goods sold in the market were either ‘burnt’ or of poor quality. In no way did that hinder its popularity of course. It was ever one of the most crowded streets of Carane, not just for purchases, but for camaraderie – the streets had multiple inns and alehouses, where people met on a whim to discuss philosophy, politics or art and mostly ended up fighting each other.

The Sovereign stopped dead in his tracks. The thought had trigged something in his mind. He tried to fish it out – the key to him being here. It wasn’t such a discussion that had brought him here – but something of that nature – a sermon, he thought. Or a speech. The answer floated to the surface from the depths of his mind. The podium.

He glanced at the local time keep. And just in time too. It would start in a few minutes. He raced, knowing every turn of the serpent-like street and reached just as the man had climbed the pedestal.

The speech was interesting but incorrect. The man had been talking about freedom, of the nature of dynasties, of suffering, of change. Clearly, he did not know anything about any of these. But then what would one expect from the Burnt Market? It was full of false goods and false opinions. For some reason though, beyond what the Sovereign could fathom, the speech exasperated him. Before he realized, he had told the speaker to shut up, and had begun explaining to the crowd on the true nature of empires. The crowd had been amused at first, then intent, then amused again as more and more had started gathering. Everybody in the Burnt Market loved a scene and they could see that they were about to get one. The Sovereign had gone on and on – really he could have spoken about the dynamics of the realms for weeks, months even – if given a chance.

The woman had been observing the Sovereign for some time now. Her eyes were impassive and the Sovereign never saw the knife coming. He looked incredulously as he fell backward with the impact, understanding what had happened but not really understanding the why behind it. He looked at the wound – it was minor, but a stab wound just the same. Strangely, he didn’t stop talking. He continued on and on…

And then a fight ensued. The Sovereign saw several daggers go up in the air and several more hands to stop them. The crowd was fighting among themselves – some to destroy him, others to protect. He heard faint sentences cutting through the overpowering din of the bells of the licorice cart. “You killed my son”, “My children are dead because of the war”, “Your desire to make change has ruined our lives”, and even fainter sentences from the ones protecting him “Change is necessary”, “There will always be casualties in war – but the Sovereign has changed things for the better and forever”, “We believe in the Sovereign”, “Long live the Sovereign”. He was still on the ground babbling about the righteous things in life, how sometimes there needed to be a price paid for achieving lasting change, and how metamorphosis was difficult but fruitful in the end… The woman nearest to him, kicked him, shielding an incoming dagger. The din of the bells was too overpowering now. The Sovereign barely heard her. “Run”.

He got up, struggling as he did so, and watched the market wilt in the moonlight. It was several more seconds before the room slid into focus. “What’s wrong?” asked Palmeida beside him.

The Sovereign shook his head, now logical and calm, as the world expected him to be. “My dreams… The happy ones are getting interspersed with more…” He looked at her. “…tragic memories. We should have another look at the mind tomorrow. We need to re-compartmentalize. I cannot keep doing this.”

Palmeida smiled. She wasn’t worried about the Sovereign, knowing the strength and the courage that lay beneath. “So… not a God after all” she said teasingly.

The Sovereign dropped his head back and closed his eyes once more. “Not yet” came the reply.