Empress Kay-Li and the Soul Ripper #1: The Dreaded Sacrifice Part Two
The marketplace located in the center of the remote village was closed for the day. The temporary, rugged tents and vendor booths were held together by simple cord and string and were covered by sheets of burlap canvas. Varieties of merchandise, crafts and trades from around the kingdom were hidden underneath the blankets. Clothes, rugs, jewelry, perfumes and fresh foods were plentiful in the marketplace. There were also four fenced corrals around the village square harboring goats, chickens, horses and camels. During the morning and afternoons, the marketplace was a hectic place. It opened early and the sooner one arrived, the better the selection. Villagers from around the town and farmers from the countryside flooded in ready to purchase needed supplies. It could be a dirty place with people yelling and bartering prices in order to make a fast sale. The market was a travelling enterprise, moving from locale to local every two to three weeks. It wasn’t just business either. Entertainment of various sources was also available to adult and children alike. The permanent merchants of the village were housed in larger stone or brick buildings around the town square. Often times, the merchant’s family lived directly above their storefront on the second floor. Now, all was calm and quiet except for the occasional sound of the animals. Night had fallen and the village was asleep. A full moon cast a glossy haze over the town.
The man was short and stocky. He scuttled out of a nearby alley, intentionally moving in stealth so as not to be noticed. One of the horses reared back on its feet. He motioned for it to be quiet before quickly moving on. His face was dirty and what few teeth remained was yellow from neglect. He was a craftsman by trade who lived in the village, but had fallen on hard times. Now, he begged each day on the corner. The pauper came to a tent and lifted the canvas. Baskets and baskets of apples, pears and plums were neatly lined up across a makeshift table. The man licked his cracked lips as he removed a sack from his belt. He frantically began filling it with fruit. A faint shadow fell across his back. Startled, the thief turned. No one was there. He shrugged his shoulders and returned to cramming the bag full. Outside, the animals began to stir.
“Thou shall not steal,” a deep voice remarked.
The beggar whirled around again. A figure stood in the entrance of the tent. All the man could see was what appeared to be two, long pointed horns jutting from the figure’s head.
“What, what are you?” the man stuttered out. “A demon!?!”
“I am the Soul Ripper.” Three, flaming blue claws shot out of each of the figure’s gloved
hands. The six, jeweled stones on his chest began to glow. “I will purify you from your evil ways.”
“Stay away from me!” the man cried, dropping the open sack to the ground. He scurried across the dirt floor of the tent, tripping and fallen over the fruit scattered on the ground. “Stay away!”
The man frantically crawled underneath the tent canvas and ran toward the alley. He darted down the narrow passage banging into the walls, gasping for breath and covered in fear. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the Soul Ripper walking after him, the fiery claws lighting up the alleyway.
“Stay away!” he shouted. “Stay away!”
The alleys were a maze and the poor man felt as if he were the mouse. The man pivoted to the left and then to the right. He banged into ceramic, potted plants and almost fell over a stone wall. He kept running until he felt that he could no longer breathe. He slid to a halt and fell to the ground in exhaustion. He looked down the alley and saw no one. He chuckled between gasps of air and struggled to his feet. The man wiped his sweaty brow with a sigh of relief. He turned so he might return home. Soul Ripper stood in his path.
“You cannot escape your transgressions,” Soul Ripper said.
“No! No! No!” the man pleaded.
Soul Ripper pushed the man against the side of the building. He raised his clinched fist with the burning, blue claws.
“I was hungry,” the man sobbed. A tear rolled down his cheek. “I have children and nobody would give me food.”
Soul Ripper jammed the burning claws into the man’s chest. Immediately, the beggar burst into blue flame. Soul Ripper stepped back. The fire did not burn or consume the poor man. He screamed, even though he felt no heat or pain. The man slowly sank to the ground,
unconscious. The fire dissipated and disappeared. The man’s face, teeth and clothing were strikingly clean. The flaming claws retracted from view.
“You are not a bad man,” the Soul Ripper said. “That is why you were not destroyed. Your soul has been purified from the evil one. When you awake, turn to the King and begin your life again.”
Soul Ripper removed ten gold coins from his belt. It was equal to a month’s wage for the beggar. He placed the coins in the sleeping man’s hand.
“Yes, my friend, begin again,” Soul Ripper whispered. He stood and silently walked away.
General Shig was a large, fat man. He preferred to dress in his full military uniform, complete with a sword and daggers on his belt. His red jacket was adorned with metals of bravery for battles fought long ago. His khaki pants were baggy and his boots shined against the candles that illuminated the Tenshi council chambers. Despite his impeccable dress, General Shig’s face, with his unshaven sideburns, thin mustache and sloppy dark hair, was a mess.
The council chamber was a large room located in the center of the palace. On both sides of the chamber, murals of beautiful landscapes, painted to the tiniest of details, featured mountains, rivers and oceans. The paintings seemed to flow and cascade down the walls of the room. In the center, a long wooden table extended the chamber’s entire length. The table was not built very high. Woven mats of bamboo provided the only seating. The council chamber was filled with members of Empress Kay-Li’s ministers and advisors. They were arguing and throwing their hands into the air in digust. General Shig clamored to the front of the room.
“Silence!” he bellowed. “We must present a united front!”
“Where is the empress?” someone called out.
“Who has called this assembly?” another minister questioned.
Suddenly, Kay-Li burst through the chamber doors. The room fell silent as everyone scattered to resume their proper place at the table. They fell to their knees on the bamboo mats.
“So now the council meets when the empress has not summoned them?” she angrily said.
The room remained silent.
“Has no one an answer?” Kay-Li continued. “Perhaps the task master in the palace dungeon can extract some words from all of you!”
General Shig slowly rose from the table. He carefully balanced his massive frame.
“Your wise counselor, Zee, has brought to the council the gravest of news,” the general said. “In the interest of our mutual security, your cabinet thought it best for your council of advisors to gather. If we have offended the great Empress Kay-Li, it was not by design.”
General Shig bowed and knelt back down.
“I know of nothing from Zee that would justify the joining of this council against my wishes,” Kay-Li retorted. “All matters of the kingdom must first come to me. Only when I seek your advisement does the council gather.”
Abish, an older, skinny man with white hair and a long beard stood. He was the minister of property for Sapphira.
“We can no longer deny that the darkness over the kingdom continues to grow,” Abish remarked. “We have been cursed for a transgression.”
“And of what sin do you speak?” Kay-Li questioned.
“The darkness began to form six seasons ago,” General Shig answered. “About the time when Princess Ojo was born.”
“What do you suggest?” she angrily shot back. “You must be careful, General Shig, of the accusations you appear to make. My father may have been impressed with the medals on your chest. I am not.”
“The gods of our ancestors must be satisfied,” Abish injected. “We must embrace the old ways while we still can.”
“We worship the one true King,” Kay-Li replied. “The King of everlasting life and eternal peace. The ancient gods have all but faded away.”
“There was no darkness prior to the foreigners migrating to our land and turning our people away from the sacred idols.”
“Idols are made only of stone,” Kay-Li reminded them. “The foreigners did not bring war and chaos to our land, even though they may be easiest to blame. We were a lost people, fighting for land and greed. We may struggle with the darkness, but we do have peace.”
“How do you intend to remove the darkness from over the kingdom?” Abish demanded.
“On that question, I do not know,” Kay-Li conceded.
“Perhaps we have found a way, Empress Kay-Li,” General Shig offered. He motioned toward the council chamber’s doors. “Bring in, Zee.”
The doors opened and a hooded figure, covered in black robes, was escorted into the council chambers by two Tenshi soldiers. He slowly walked around the room as the ministers and other officials gasped and fearfully stared at him. Kay-Li waved the soldiers to depart. They bowed slightly and immediately left the room.
“Counselor Zee, you appear ungrateful to your empress for the many blessings that she has bestowed upon you for your gift of sight,” Kay-Li remarked. “Your prophecies are to be shared with no one but me alone. Instead, you have chosen to involve the royal council.”
Zee reached up and removed his hood. He was a young man. His body was tall and very slim. His head was shaved and there was a decorative tattoo that went down the entire left side of his face. It was shaped in the image of a dragon.
“It was not my intent to disrespect the empress,” Zee’s soft voice calmly said.
“It may not have been your intent,” Kay-Li forcefully replied. “But, you have done so.”
“Does Empress Kay-Li wish for me to leave?”
“No. You are here now,” Kay-Li said, kneeling down on the bamboo mat. “Tell me what you have seen.”
“As you wish,” Zee continued. “I was engaged in my daily meditations in the temple when the King appeared to me. He instructed me to have you go to Mount Sabor in the northern region. You are to make sacrifice there.”
“The King?” Kay-Li remarked. “The King has appeared to no one since the beginning of days. Tell me, what did the King look like?”
“I do not recall the features of His face,” Zee replied.
“And for what reason did the King provide that required sacrifice of me?” Kay-Li asked. “Sacrifice is no longer required under the laws of the covenant. The Prince has paid that price for us.”
“He said only that sacrifice could remove the darkness from our kingdom,” Zee answered.
“Then we must comply!” Abish suddenly called out. “Immediately!”
“Silence!” Kay-Li commanded, slamming her fist against the table. “And what shall I sacrifice to the King of all the universe that He does not already possess?”
“Your daughter, Princess Ojo,” Zee calmly replied.
“Are you mad!?!” Kay-Li shouted, rising from the table. “What foolish prophecy is this?”
“I convey to you only what I have seen,” Zee said.
“There is treachery in your words, counselor,” Kay-Li observed. “Do not think that I do not see or hear it.”
“If we are to remove the darkness from over our kingdom,” General Shig remarked. “Must we not consider it?”
“No!” Ka-Li retorted. “We will not consider such madness!”
“The empress is ruler over all the peoples of Sapphira,” Abish reminded her. “Tenshi must do what is right for all her subjects.”
“The council has voted, Empress Kay-Li,” General Shig commented. “And the vote was unanimous.”
“Is this true?” Kay-Li shockingly asked the assembly.
The members of the council reluctantly nodded their heads in agreement. A few bowed their heads in shame, unable to make eye contact with the empress.
“The vote of the council holds no bearing or sway over Empress Kay-Li,” Zee remarked. “Only she may decide by her royal birthright.”
“I will retire to my private chambers,” Kay-Li said. “My answer shall be delivered before the morning. Counselor Zee, you will follow me.”
Zee placed the hood over his head and followed Kay-Li out of the meeting room.
THE ADVENTURE WILL CONTINUE.....