Empress Kay-Li and the Soul Ripper #1: The Dreaded Sacrifice Part One
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
THE STORY BEGINS.......
The darkness was slowly enveloping the kingdom of Sapphira. It was not a darkness such as found at nightfall, but a gradual one that deepened and darkened with each passing day. The sun, so revered by the people, had vanished from sight some time ago, only to be seen peeking through the cloud cover on selected occasions. No one in the kingdom knew when the crawling darkness had actually begun. Many people said it was when the Tenshi rulers had abandoned the ancient ways of the state religion and welcomed foreigners into the kingdom. These strangers with different faces and customs worshipped the one true God known to them only as the King. The migration had been three generations ago. Others, perhaps more wiser, said the darkness had begun much later, just six seasons in the past when the newly crowned Empress Kay-Li had given birth to her daughter, Ojo, on the same day that the Tenshi warriors were victorious against the Akra dynasty on the plains of Sonsho. Regardless of the time or date, the darkness continued to grow.
The pagoda fortress of the Tenshi dynasty, rulers of the kingdom of Sapphira for over five thousand years, towered over the capital city of Sabar. Perched high on a hill, the multi-tiered castle was the center piece of the walled city and held a commanding view of the kingdom for miles in every direction. The pagoda was surrounded by a maze of gardens, farms and aqueducts which supplied fresh food and water to the inhabitants. The years of fading sunlight had taken their toll on the once proud people. Crops had been harder to grow. The soil hardened. What once had been a city among a grove of forests now resembled an almost barren land. The tall grasses were no longer green. The plants were dying. The trees were lifeless. The Tenshi rulers had fashioned methods of producing artificial light, but had met with only limited success.
Empress Kay-Li was still young and beautiful, just as she had been when she assumed the Tenshi throne six years ago at the death of her father in battle. Her skin was flawless, but a pale white due to the lack of natural sunlight. Her blonde hair flowed down her back. It was the custom of the men of the kingdom to tie their hair back to avoid it from blinding their eyes. With the darkness, the men had abandoned this practice. Kay-Li, however, had adopted this custom as her own and usually her hair was pulled back. She wore the traditional garment of the Tenshi warrior’s ancestry, a combination of both armor and cloth. Kay-Li had been educated by the finest tutors. She had also been trained in the various modes of combat and was proficient with a variety of weapons. Her favorite one was the long sword and she carried a special sword that had been handcrafted and designed specifically for her. Kay-Li prized the kingdom’s horse cavalry above all else for national defense, partly due to her own advanced riding skills.
On the fourth day of every week, Kay-Li and Ojo would depart the city on horseback for a day in the countryside. They would ride for several miles until they came to the large tree near the river, Hosino. Here, they would water their horses while the mother and daughter pair walked along the river banks. Ojo took special delight in pointing out the insects and animals that were to be found along the river. As afternoon approached, they would share a meal prepared personally by Kay-Li and sip a small cup of tea. Finally, there would be playtime and frolicking across the fields.
Ojo always found much joy in the country. She ran, laughed and played. Kay-Li would chase her over the hills into the open fields. For a girl of six, Ojo already displayed many of the facial features of her mother. Ojo fell to the ground and rolled down a hill, a trail of laughter following her.
“Ojo!” Kay-Li cried out, running after her daughter. “You must be careful!”
Ojo came to a halt. Beside her head, a brown, wilted flower rested. Petals, blown off by the slightest wind, lay on the ground beside it. Ojo was fascinated by the flower. Kay-Li approached her.
“Look mother!” she excitedly said, sitting up and pointing at it. “A flower!”
Kay-Li knelt down beside her daughter and picked the wilted flower from the ground. Ojo gasped and put her tiny hands on her cheeks.
“I have prayed to the King of Life ever since the darkness first began,” Kay-Li sadly remarked. “And yet the beautiful flower remains stale and grey.”
“And does the King hear you, mother?” Ojo asked. “When you pray to Him?”
“I believe that He does, Ojo Tenshi,” Kay-Li answered. “But why He does not act, I do not know.”
“The flower is still beautiful, mother.”
“It once was,” Kay-Li sadly said. “Now, it is dark and dying. It gives no smell to attract the bee.”
“It needs only love,” Ojo calmly said. She reached out her hand to her mother. “Give the flower to me so that I may care for it.”
“The flower no longer has its roots,” Kay-Li replied. “There is no soil for it to cling and grow. It will require clean water and there is no sunlight to keep it warm.”
“I will be those things, mother.”
“As you wish, my precious daughter.” Kay-Li handed the flower to Ojo.
Ojo smiled with youthful innocence. Suddenly, red, green and yellow waves of dust formed from the thin air and danced magically around the flower. The weakened and bent stem grew and straightened, becoming firm and green. The fallen petals of the flower rose from the ground and reattached themselves. The flower opened as it regained its lush, purple color. Ojo laughed in delight as she smelled the soothing fragrance of the flower.
“You see, mother,” she playfully said. “The flower is alive!”
Kay-Li was stunned.
“Speak of this event to no one,” she ordered her daughter.
“I wish to bring the flower back to the palace,” Ojo remarked. “May I do so?”
“You are obedient and kind, Ojo Tenshi,” Kay-Li said, stroking her daughter’s hair. “You
may bring the flower back with us.”
The rider spurred the horse repeatedly with his armored boots. The horse raced faster and faster, kicking up a cloud of dust along the dirt road. Long streams of red sash flowed from the saddle, identifying the rider as a soldier of Kay-Li’s palace guard.
“Someone is coming,” Ojo said, pointing in the direction of the eastern road.
Kay-Li drew her sword as the rider approached.
“Stay behind me,” she commanded. “Something is amiss.”
The horse reared up on its hind legs. The soldier, who was hunched over the horse’s mane, quickly calmed the animal down. Kay-Li approached the rider. Immediately, she noticed the dark patches of blood on the horse’s side and back.
“My empress,” the soldier panted. “I was sent from the palace to locate you.”
“You have found us,” Kay-Li remarked. “What is of such importance that you would interrupt my personal wishes to spend time with my daughter?”
“The council has gathered.”
“Surely, you are mistaken,” Kay-Li replied. She studied the horse again. “What has
happened to this horse? Why has it been wounded?”
“My empress,” the soldier struggled to say. “I am not mistaken.”
The soldier’s eyes closed. He slumped forward and fell from the saddle. His armored body crashed to the ground. Ojo gasped in fear and rushed over so she could cling to her mother. Two arrows protruded from the soldier’s back. Kay-Li could tell that the injuries were fresh ones.
“We must return to the pagoda, Ojo,” Kay-Li remarked as she sheathed her sword. “It is not safe for us to be here. Our horses are over the hill. Let us quickly go to them.”
Ojo placed the beautiful flower in her royal cloak. She stretched out her hand to her mother. Kay-Li accepted her daughter’s gesture and offered a comforting smile. They headed over the hill toward the large tree by the river Hosino.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART TWO: ENTER THE SOUL RIPPER!