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The Crown of the Yellow King

- The Crown of the Yellow King -

  It was a very dusty road all the way from Akar'tan to Odanvor. Dusty, but not impossible to walk if a man or a woman had a mind to do so. There was the heat of the day to contend with, sure, but at night when the moons rose up from beyond the eastern mountains... the air became cooler, sometimes even a bit colder out in the deep deserts where the day could boil you and the night could freeze you during the days and months of certain seasons. But here, was a bit of a sweet spot, between the desolate wastes of the Thilkor region and the still green stretches of the Nodil plains with their occasional deep forests and pastoral meadows. Bordering all of Nodil was a ring of high mountains, and rugged hill country. People eked out a living in those parts, although life at times could be both rough and short. The desert natives never traded with the peoples of Nodil, and mostly kept to their own devices. Some said those peoples were xenophobic at best and downright hostile at worst. Myself, I preferred to avoid them if it could be helped at all. I was a loner, a solitary sort, at least in those years. I did a lot of walking back then, and in my time had seen many places both on that world and others. It would be impossible to say the date or the year... we kept time differently back then, on that planet. We lived longer, too, when not taken from life through violence, disease, or some accident or another. When I say that life could be short, this way you have an idea of my meaning. It was not natural causes that killed people out in Nodil, and so I had a mind on that occasion to avoid going there entirely. Just keep on going down that road and try not to look back! That was the advice I gave myself, but I knew I could not take it. It was nighttime now, and the stars were out and twinkling in the sky like tiny diamonds. After the previous war, machines did not have the same appeal they used to, and people had harked back to a simpler life from simpler times. But only certain folk owned animal steeds, which was why I walked like I did. It could be costly to care for an animal when it came down to deciding who needed the water or food you were carrying more. I had not the coldness in me to make that kind of choice. Sometimes I felt like maybe an animal's life might be actually worth more than mine. In those times I got to thinking almost crazy, only to steer my head back to more rational thinking again. You might ask, what brought me to Nodil on that night... and in all truth even I did not know. It was like one of those fated things, where you just are drawn someplace.

   The town I chanced upon in the plains... was one of those small little towns where everything is right on the main road and all the local people are either farmers or troublemakers of some kind. Sometimes a bit of both even! What passed for the law was a town sheriff and maybe four or five deputies, plus a town militia that could be raised in the case of emergencies. In my experience, the law could at times be even worse than those who might break it, especially when mob mentality got a hold of peoples' better judgment. On the outskirts of town there was the customary gallows, and some crosses where I saw a good number of skeletons nailed up on. Yes indeed! I would definitely not care much for what passed for law in that town. The sign that was posted near the gallows said: “Welcome to Farith!” and I found that highly ironic and more than a bit perverse, that they would put the town's welcome sign right there. I guess they wanted to make sure people knew not to make trouble there, although from all I had seen in my time that rarely served an adequate deterrence. If anything, some people would see it as a challenge. Myself, I just walked on into town and tried not to think about it much deeper. The people were all the usual types that lived in these sorts of places... the men in their finest suits, the women in their prettiest dresses, and all of them putting on airs as best they could. The poorest pretending to be rich, while the poor tried not to be seen at all. The farmers were less presumptuous, the men wearing plain trousers and shirts with ankle-high leather boots. While their women wore plain looking dresses that, while pretty in their own way, were less for fashion's sake than their wealthier counterparts. I could never understand why they still used money in these places! Some things lost their value over time, and money was one of them. But there were still people tied to the past... and, here, was where those types of people lived.

   I walked into the local tavern, which was called “Bareth's Beard”... and it was a kind of simple sort of establishment. They served the usual drinks, the usual foods, and catered to all kinds of people form all over. The place was busy on that evening, and in one corner I spotted a small party of men and women in thick brown and tan robes, their faces covered by hoods that entirely hid their features. Desert people by their looks and their language. Seemingly here for the food and not for blood... which surprised me, given their violent history with the locals of these areas in the past. I had never visited Nodil before but I had heard everything about it that I needed to know. And I knew enough not to like it! The bartender was a tall, muscular woman wearing a long white skirt, down to her ankles, with an apron tied around her waist. Tucked into the skirt was a peasant style blouse with long billowing sleeves, very low cut to show her ample bosom. She wore a pearl necklace and had a broad, freckled face. Like most of those as did live in that town, she was light of skin... although I had seen people of other ethnic varieties outside the tavern. Her hair was long, curly and fiery red. Her eyes were hazel colored, and seemed almost dull in the dim candlelight of the place. Almost olive colored, at certain times. I would describe the woman as earthy, jovial, and no nonsense. “What can I get for you tonight, stranger?” she asked, looking at me with one of those stares like your mother used to give you when you misbehaved. Like she knew and could see everything about you, even if she knew nothing about you at all. I walked up to the bar, sat on one of the high stools that were there and said to her: “Some wine maybe, but nothing too strong. I need my wits about me this evening, I think.” There was music playing, and some young girl was singing. I paid little attention to it though. The bartender brought me some red wine, which I sipped a bit of. The price was reasonable and I had the coin to pay for it, so I did. “I haven't seen you here before...” she so began, as most bartenders did, before continuing: “So... what brings you to Farith? I mean, it isn't like a lot of people know about our community here, save for merchants and the occasional thieves. And here you come, walking in here all dressed in black like you are some kind of... sorcerer, by the style of your clothing. We don't like magic folk in these parts, stranger! Never can trust them. So tell me, are you in town for business or for trouble?” I said to her in a friendly tone: “Definitely business, madam. I only make trouble when trouble finds me!” and the way I said that caused the woman to get visible nervous. She told me: “My name's Parla. What's yours?” I told her my current name, one of many I used. It was not my true name, but that was something I gave to no one. She seemed alright with the answer I gave and just said in closing: “Pleased to meet you, then. You saw the display outside of town, I'm sure... the law is the law here, so just watch out and you'll be fine. We got ladies here to purchase for the night if you need the company. I'm in charge of them, so if you mess them up I'll skin you alive myself.” I told her that I was not interested in hiring any of the prostitutes, to which she replied: “Suit yourself! If you change your mind, ask me later and I can get you hooked up.” I nodded, and went back to sipping my drink and considering my next move. I was told to meet somebody in this very tavern... although, I was not told the name of the town, only that it would be a town not too distant from the road. This matched the description well enough. I just knew the tavern's name and that was all. To be honest, I was keen on leaving that community as soon as I could. It was clear I would not be welcome there, given what I was. My clothing was a dead giveaway! Full black pantaloons tied at the waist and ankles with drawstring, a silk-like sleeveless black blouse tucked into the pants. Black sandals on my feet, and a black shrug with long sleeves around my shoulders and arms. My head was shaved bald, and I had no eyebrows. I was on the pale side, and had an unusual look about my features. My eyes were blue, and I wore black lipstick. It was an unusual look, but not uncommon for a sorcerer. My build was average, and I tended to rely a lot more on cunning than physical strength. I carried two weapons on me... a pistol holstered at my side, a leather belt around my waist containing the holster. And a “magical” dagger that I kept in a sheathe on the other side of my belt. It had no power save for it having been consecrated to ancient gods that I doubted these sorts of people even had a glimmer of the existence of. I was... indeed... a stranger there!

   Several hours later, I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around. It was the person I was expecting to meet, although at first I had thought it was one of the locals looking for trouble... so my hand went to my dagger sheathe instinctively. I preferred that, to using the pistol. It was cleaner, less noisy, and a lot more personal. There was no honor in blasting someone from a distance compared to showing them up close and personal why it was a bad idea for them to start trouble with you. But all was well, and I soon found myself relaxing. She called my name, and told me her own, saying: “My name, is Katethka... but you can just call me Kate. I hear you have been expecting me, for a while... sorry I was late, but there is no easy way to travel those plains in the dead of night without a map and compass or better yet a guide. Do you know what I mean?” I nodded, explaining that I did. She continued: “Some caravans got hit in this region recently, the work of brigands by all accounts, and ones the local militia never caught. So as a woman traveling alone, I kept it safe!” she was a beautiful young woman too. A slender figure but one with all the right curves. She had an olive complexion with shoulder-length copper colored hair and the kind of big brown eyes that added a cute look to a girl's face. She had a round face, with full ruby red lips, the kind of nose you would on Earth call an English nose, and a pleasant smile. She wore a long, red dress with a frilly white underskirt peeking out from the bottom of it. The dress had elbow length puffy white sleeves, and was modestly buttoned up to her neck. She wore gold loop earrings and had on her right wrist a leather cuff bracelet with gold colored metal studs decorating it. Her skirt was long and floor length, and she had the overall look of an upper class lady. She was wise to steer clear of brigands looking so pretty and so noble. “You do make a tempting target!” I teased her, licking my lips as I said that. She knew my dark humor, so she chuckled a bit at my joke before getting down to business at last.

   She led me to a table in the back of the tavern, where we sat down to talk. She arranged her skirts like a proper lady as she seated herself. She leaned forward and said to me quietly: “Alright! I managed, and not too easily either mind you, to determine the location of an old vault that actually contains, they say, the mask of the last king of old Kar'cosa. I have no idea why it would be out in this region, so far from that ancient city, but it would appear that it is. No, the king was not buried with the mask! But rather, it appears that the mask was enshrined separately and that the shrine itself is in the mountains. I have not the slightest clue why you want it, but that is where we can find it if the information turns out to be the truth. I have not been there to verify it... but the person who told me about it had... and was not in great shape at all. What afflicted him, I did not now... but the man died sweating blood right after he told me of his experiences in the mountains.” I felt a bit nervous after hearing them, and swallowed hard. “Did he say anything about what might have caused his death?” I asked. Kate replied: “Not really... he spoke of evil spirits, traps, and living shadows. He sounded almost mad near the end! He looked like he had been poisoned by something, though, and his delirious state was evocative of poisoning. Perhaps even by something hallucinogenic.” That would explain the things he claimed to have encountered, but as a sorcerer I knew better than to wholly discount the supernatural entirely. “We'll head out tomorrow or the next day at the latest.” I stated, adding: “We'll need supplies, a proper map and compass, a lantern and all kinds of other things. I have the money for it... the Chaos Guild made sure to provide me with that. But I want you with me all the way, Kate! They told me you are the best blood witch in the whole guild, and I have a certain fondness... for the best.” She nodded, blushing a bit. I liked her a lot already, and I planned on knowing her a whole lot better before we were finished in Nodil. She noticed my eyes looking her over several times as we drank together, and always smiled and pretended to avert her gaze each time. “The best, really?” she asked after a while. “I never felt like I was the best at anything, to be honest with you.” I saw into her soul at that point. She had been hurt in the past, perhaps even abused... there were tears in her eyes she was trying to stifle, her lower lip quivering a bit. She sipped her drink, and I looked deeply into her sad eyes and proclaimed: “Yes, Katie! The very best... by my standards.”

   The supplies and goods... were all very easy to acquire. Kate dressed practically for the trip, wearing a pair of full red bloomer-style pants paired with a red short-sleeved blouse tucked into them. She had on her feet sturdy white ankle boots and on her hands she wore a pair of black leather fingerless gloves. It was a pretty outfit for a pretty girl, but one she could explore in comfortably. I wore a strikingly similar outfit in style to the one I had just worn on the day previous, except that this time the pants, blouse, and shrug had crimson red trim. I chose my clothing for comfort, fashion, and esoteric meaning. Katie had a similar penchant, it seemed, and that was yet another way we made a good pair. We had both shared the same room, and found ourselves in each other's arms well before morning. It was not love, not yet at the very least, but rather a combination of lust and the need for each other's comfort that made us do as we ended up doing. At one point during the night, Kate was crying in her sleep, and I held her tightly until the sorrow passed. I cried for her, as well. Never before... had I sensed so utterly broken a soul as hers. In any case, we were in high spirits all the day after and before long we were walking across the plains on the way into the hill country in the distance, beyond a stretch of thick woodlands. The day was just a bit on the gloomy side, with gray clouds broken only occasionally by the blue sky hidden behind them. It did not rain, thankfully, but we brought a couple of umbrellas with us just in case it might. The paths we took would lead us around the woods, rather than through them, which was a safer way to travel at least according to the maps we had on us. It was not quicker, but it was better. It was midday when we finally got to the hills, and could see the massive crags of the mountains beyond them. It was like being faced with primeval giants made of rough rock, crag, and stone. No snow ever fell upon the tall peaks of those mountains, and every day the desert encroached further into the plains. Ra'qia was a planet in the process of becoming nothing but wastelands. Wars, heavy industrialization in the past, and careless exploitation of natural resources had all taken their toll upon the land. That was what stirred the anger of the natives so much! And they were right. People had managed to damn near murder the world itself, and still they had a mind to murder one another too as it suited them. I only killed if the cause was right.

   Up on one stretch of the hills, there was a jagged crown of rocky standing stones all in a circle. Kate pointed to them, proclaiming proudly: “That, is the marker that points the way! I knew the information was correct... come on, let us have a look at that circle.” She bounded forward, leading me literally by the hand as we scrambled up the hillside until we reached the standing stones. Embedded in each one of those stones were human bones that protruded outward from them, as if people had at some point been engulfed by the structures. I knew, however, that this only meant that people had been used as part of the construction materials, which was gruesome but not as strange as all that. Kate showed no shock or surprise at the sight, which told me she had either seen this kind of thing before, or had seen far worse. She noticed a flat rectangular altar in the center of the circle, and pointed it out to me. We walked over to it and she swept some leaves, grass and dirt away from the top of it. Upon its' surface was a series of ancient runes that resembled Nordic runes from Earth's history, only these were vastly more ancient by far than any written language developed by humans on any planet. Kate could read the language well! I had studied it in the past, but without my old notes on the subject (which I had not brought with me) it was impossible for me to attempt a meaningful translation. Kate said: “This all is what the runes say: 'In the mountains, ascending the trail of the setting sun... upon the place of the dead... you will find the way within the darkness. There, the mask of the Lost King lies waiting, waiting for the King to claim it. All others shall meet their ends within the unholy halls. Depart, if you value your life!' Well, that sounds a bit cheery, doesn't it?” I nodded, and noticed a trail that led up high into the mountainside... with rough steps carved into the very rock itself. It was perfectly aligned with one of the standing stones. I pointed out to Kate what I suspected: “I think it means that on a sunny day, around sunset, that standing stone's shadow there would fall upon where the trail begins. That... would have to be the way we need to go.”

   It was rough going, heading up that steep trail I had spotted. As we ascended higher, measuring each step with the utmost caution, we began to hear the cries of carrion birds further up into the mountains. “That might be the place of the dead the runes mentioned!” I offered. Kate responded, intoning in her particularly classy accent that on Earth would be considered an English accent: “The place of the dead, eh? I am not at all certain I want to see it, myself. But we've come this far, so we might as well!” Yet there was no fear or hesitation in her voice. Just a mild sense of annoyance. Soon, we reached a rather high place where there was a kind of flat clifftop overlooking all below it. The trail led up to it, and it was that clifftop where the carrion birds were circling. Upon reaching it, we saw that the entire area all across the clifftop was covered in human bones and skeletons, as well as corpses in various states of decay and decomposition. The birds were busy pecking away at the flesh of those that remained with meat still intact upon them, their beaks tearing as they found their grisly prizes. “Well, this certain is a place of the dead!” exclaimed Kate. I whistled, and replied: “I wonder what, or who, killed them? Or if they died someplace else and were deposited here to get rid of the bodies!” Kate stated gloomily: “If it is all the same to you, I'd rather not find out either way.” I agreed, and we had a proper look around the clifftop after that. The view from there was incredible, despite the smell of the corpses. You could see, down below, all of the plains and even the town of Farith in the distance. If you really strained to look, you could just barely make out the great road and the desert bordering it. Kate was busy inspecting the higher cliffs that towered over the “place of the dead”. She noticed a totally flat panel-like surface in one spot at the base of one of those cliffs, and she pushed on it... revealing a dark hidden passageway. “Hey, come on over here and have a look! I think I found the way to the mask's resting place.” she said in an excited tone. I rushed over to see, and sure enough this was indeed a way into darkness. Matching the runic inscription's words perfectly! We still had no idea what had caused the death of that man of which Kate had spoken. So far there had been little to no perils aside from needing to be cautious in the climb up, and knowing enough to avoid the woodlands that were often home to outlaws and worse. But as we made out way deeper and deeper into the cavernous tunnels before us, using our lanterns to light the way however dimly, I could not help but feel that we were venturing towards the true perils at last.

   Before too much longer, we came to a series of archways carved from the natural rock of the cavern through which we made our way. Kate's boots were rather muddy by now, whereas the boots I chose to wear for the trip were thankfully black and so the mud and dirt of the journey showed less upon them. I only noticed this, because I was looking at the floor next... where I spotted a series of flat, raised tiles. Various human and animal bones lay near each one, some upon the tiles themselves... and the whole of this looked like a trapped area to me. I cried out for Kate to halt, and I suggested that we should do our best to avoid stepping on any of the tiles, just in case they were trapped after all. Something had killed those unfortunates whose remains we noticed before us, and I had no wish to join them in death. Thus did we bypass that hallway, and after we passed it I decided to test my theory. I picked up a large stone and threw it as hard as I could towards one of the floor tiles we were now thankfully past. It caused the tile to sink down into the floor with a loud grinding sound. Suddenly, countless long darts shot out from the ceiling, showering that entire hallway with their deadly needles. “Good thing I listened to you.” My lovely companion complimented. I nodded, and we ventured deeper still into the darkness before us. As we did so, we came to a very long bridge over a great and seemingly bottomless chasm filled with thick gray mists. The bridge was ornately carved and worked from stone and wood, with an elegant arch to it. No raised floor tiles were there to worry about, and everything appeared safe enough. We began to walk across the bridge, being certain not to look down into the chasm as we did so. From within it, we heard a horrible clattering sound, and soon many similar sounds that seemed to be getting closer. “Katie! We need to run... right now! Come on!” and I grabbed her by the hand and pulled her along as we fled fast.

   I did not look behind us... to see the creatures that pursued us through the next series of halls, tunnels, and caverns. I heard the sound, and it was frightening! Like great insects of some kind, with mandibles that made clacking sounds and bodies that brushed against the walls as they attempted to catch up to us. The creatures hissed, and I suspected some sort of enormous spiders or something at least spider-like. It seemed they were not fast like spiders, however, as we were fortunate for that. After some time though, the horrors... whatever they had actually been... broke off their pursuit and all was quiet. Kate and I had decided to stop a moment, in order to catch our breath. It was no longer a question of whether the man who had died telling Kate about this place had perished by some peril or another... it was more a matter of which peril had gotten to him first. Possibly poisoned darts, or the venom of giant spider-like beasts?Either way, we were lucky to have so narrowly avoided the same, or worse, fate. As we sat together on the cavern floor, I put my hand on Kate's thigh and gazed at her lovingly. She noticed, smiled, and took my hand in her own, holding it tightly. “I think I am falling for you, Katie.” I said, seriously. She shook her head, blushed, and replied: “I can't imagine why you would want to! You could do better.” I leaned over and kissed her lips tenderly, saying: “Maybe, but I wouldn't want to do better. I am happy with just you... exactly as you are!” And we kissed more passionately after that. “Thank you.” she whispered. We stood up after having some water to drink form the flasks we had in our packs. It had been hard running with those slung over our shoulders, but we only packed what we needed so the packs were quite light. We walked deeper into the darkness before us, smiling at each other as we went along. We were falling in love, and I was happy to fall. My life had become lonely in recent years, and love was the only cure for the pain I carried within my soul. I could lose myself in love... and try to forget the evils of the past. Try to forget, that evil still existed within the world at all... even though I knew all too well, that it did.

   Next, came a place that was like unto a series of small mazes, with crypts and catacombs containing the bones of ancient nobles, buried with all their finery. All of it tattered, worn, and faded to nothing... with the value of even their jewelry having been lost and made worthless by time. Had I known some of these men and women of old? When I was the king of that lost kingdom, from which my ancient mask had been taken when I perished at the end of that past life's existence. The resting places were like unto shelves cut into the cavern wall, and the walls were honeycombed with these. Some had gilded plaques set into the walls above each such alcove, with the various names of their long-dead occupants written upon each. I could understand the writing, and I did indeed recognize some names, but not all. It was a hard thing, seeing what remained of these people. Seeing how time had taken all from them in the end. Kate noticed this, and asked me: “Why do you look so sad? Tell me, please! Perhaps I could cheer you up, if I may.” I confessed to her: “These were my subjects once, when I was their king. Now... they are no more, and I have outlived them all even if I do now walk in other flesh than I did previously. In this place, somewhere, is likely one I had even loved... adored, above all others... and I have no wish to see her, preferring as I do to remember what she looked like while still living. Let us hurry through this sad place, and be out of it if possible! I do not like to be surrounded by so many of the long dead.” I was yet haunted by her memory, by the memory of the princess Camilla... sister of Cassilda... whose most tragic death had coincided with my own, marking the end of my reign over Kar'cosa, a reign I no longer even wanted, preferring to dwell with Camilla far beyond that city, in the tower that had been my true home. I knew that she was here, and I did not know why I knew that. Trying to put the thought out of my head I simply strove to concentrate on Kate and I finding our way through these burial halls. It seemed that it did not really matter which way we went, since the whole area eventually gravitated towards a specific direction, with every passageway leading hither. Eventually, the passages all led into a great triangular shaped cavern with an arching ceiling. The cavern was immense, and filled with burial altars on which the elite of old Kar'cosa were laid to rest, all of them facing away from... what lay at the room's center.

   It was like a twisted parody of a throne room! In the center of the triangular chamber there was a very large dais, a raised portion of the floor, upon which three thrones were sat. In the one on the left, sat all that yet remained of my beloved, long-dead Camilla. In the one on the right, sat the skeletal remains of Cassilda. While in the center, I gazed upon my own mummified corpse. Many of Camilla's bones were horribly broken from the fall from the tower that had claimed her life, and here they were held together by mechanical parts that attempted to hold her shattered body together... with some measure of dignity. She was dressed in a long blood red gown that was faded and tattered with age... her long blonde hair framing her grinning skeletal features that had been robbed of their flesh by the passing of long years. Cassilda, her older sister, wore a similar style of gown... the same color as well. Her hair was also the same color... what there was of it which had not fallen out with time. But upon her head was a golden circlet decorated with a ruby, which was likely all that held the remnants of her hair still in place. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the hair had netting beneath it. It had been a wig, rather than her real hair. No wonder it had deteriorated so badly! Her body smelled oddly, unlike the other corpses of this hall, which all smelled vaguely fragrant due to whatever means had been used to embalm them. Kate noticed it too, and leaned in close to inspect Cassilda's corpse. “I know that smell!” my companion declared, so adding: “It is the unmistakable scent of a lethal poison, one that was a popular suicide method among the nobles of the ancient world. Whoever this woman had been, she apparently killed herself!” I told Kate who she had been, and of Camilla also, and of the fact that the middle corpse was myself from a life now long gone. I pointed to Cassilda: “She had been my wife.” and then I pointed to Camilla, warm tears in my eyes as I said sorrowfully: “And she... she had been my whole world.” Kate found an old, tattered piece of parchment clutched in Cassilda's grasp. She tore that parchment away, and gave it a look. After a bit she told me: “I can understand the writing, I studied this once when I was a teenager. It reads as follows: 'Last year, upon this very day... I lost both my sister and my living god to death. I shall honor the priests' commandments and not speak my god's name, for it is now wholly forbidden to even mention that one any longer, in all the holy places of Kar'cosa. There is a doom falling upon the city, a tide of shadow that I cannot stem. I still love my living, nameless god! And I still miss my sister, with no end to either grief in sight. She took her own life, even as she took his. Now, I shall take my own! The sooner that I may join them again, in whatever lies beyond for us. Our Kar'cosa, is not this fallen kingdom but something finer, grander, and quite beyond the confines of this world. That is where we shall all meet again! I have seen my god's sign, the Yellow Sign... and it has shown me what I must do.' it appears that this was all that was written here. She definitely seems to have chosen... to end her life.”

   It was hard to hear that confirmed. Hard to hear the words of my former queen, so echoing from out of the ages, found in the decayed hands of her very remains. I dared, to regard my own dead body just then, tears streaming down my face. I was sobbing with grief. My corpse was wrapped in bandages, and at the joints of the elbows and knees were mechanical parts similar to those that held Camilla together. For my own body was broken in death the same as her own had been. Under the bandages, I suspected there were more such parts. The mummy was dressed in a very tattered looking yellow gown of a sort of see-through, diaphanous design. Over the head, was a faded yellow cowl, over which was a golden mask attached to a tall equally gilded crown. Three bright pale green gemstones were embedded in the crown, which felt warm to the touch. I looked over at Camilla, touched her hair lightly, gently, and said to her with my mouth quivering with sadness: “Sleep in peace, my love!” I looked over at Cassilda, at the queen herself, and said to her: “Rest easy, my darling. Know that I loved you beyond life, as well!” I then turned back to my own body and said to Kate: “I am going to remove the mask from the body now. This will be hard for me... it is not every day you are faced with your own corpse. If I scream or faint, or whatever might happen, please be there for me. Help me, if you are able.” She nodded, understanding.

   I took the crown and mask from the head... the mask was a part of the crown, and so they both had to come away together. The mask could be lifted up on hinges like the visor of a helmet, I noticed. I held the object in my hands and looked upon my long-dead face, which gazed back at me from the opening in the old wrappings. Only a skull regarded me, but it was my skull and that thought chilled me deeply. I had no words to speak, no thoughts to think. Kate touched my arm and said to me sweetly: “Come on, my love... let us leave the dead with the dead, and return to where we belong.” I nodded in agreement, but first I had a mind to put on the crown and the mask after cleaning it first with a cloth and a cleanser that I had brought with me in my pack for this very purpose. The mask's face plate was featureless and not unlike a mirror. Once it was over my face, it was like looking at the world through a window, one that you could see out through but no one could see in. I looked at the three corpses before me and all at once I saw that they were corpses no longer, but all three looked precisely as they had in life. I saw my own face looking back at me from the throne of the King in Yellow, only it was me from back then... it was how I looked in that body, in that life. Sweet young Cassilda looked as if she was merely sleeping now, as did the noble queen whose features appeared untouched by the decay of centuries. I did not at all understand how this was possible! What the science, or even the magic behind this could even be. The two noblewomen had bluish colored skin I saw, while mine back then had been bone white. I had, perhaps, been an albino of some sort. The eyes of my deceased form were closed as if asleep. All of a sudden, the mask felt very warm against my skin and I decided that I should remove it. I did so, and as soon as I did the face plate cracked. I dropped it out of shock, and the mask shattered into pieces before it ever even hit the floor. The three green gemstones in the crown were blazing with light. What was so left of the mask came off from its' hinges as I picked up the crown. Only the crown remained now. I took the object in my hands, and said to Kate: “Come on, dear one! Let us be far away from this place.”

   We made our way back to the bridge where we had encountered those creatures before, and the sound of the awful things had returned. We could not run ahead, without running into the lethal dart trap, and we dared not return to the place reserved for the dead. Suddenly, the shapes of the horrible things came into view, and it was like several different kinds of insect all meshed into grotesque forms with massive and bloated bodies supported by countless chitinous legs. There were eyes all over them, tentacles, and other appendages, along with countless fanged mouths that opened and closed as the things moved. In a panic, I put the crown on my head and looked about me hoping to find a way for Kate and I to escape in one piece. The crown was warm, its' three peculiar jewels now practically burning with some unknown form of energy I had never encountered before. The creatures seemed afraid of us while I wore it, and so I motioned for Kate to keep as close to me as she could. I held her close as we slowly stepped bit by bit closer to the exit, to the passageway that led to the dart trap. We already knew how to get through it, and the only remaining obstacle was this bridge. As we reached the other side of the bridge, I turned around to look behind us, and saw there the ghostly forms of Princess Camilla and Queen Cassilda. It was as if their skeletal corpses had risen from their sleep of centuries and now walked once again. The two waved to me, as if waving goodbye. I waved back and shouted: “Farewell, my two lost loves! I will never forget you, even in a thousand more lifetimes to come.” Kate looked perplexed as she gazed in the same direction. She said tome worriedly: “Honey, nobody is there!” and I knew that she could not see their spirits, which I had evidently seen thanks to the power of the crown that was somehow able to enhance my own existing, innate ability to perceive spiritual beings and things. The creatures scurried on back down into the chasm and we saw them no more. We soon were past the dart trap area, and after a bit we emerged from the underground to see that it was nearly nightfall. We had spent almost all of the day down in that place, and we both felt weak and weary as we climbed back down to the circle of standing stones, where we took some time to eat the food we had brought, drink some water, and rest.

   I fell asleep for several hours and awoke to see Kate doing something very strange! She had the gold crown in her hands, and was prying the green jewels out of it with a knife. She then took the same knife and cut her left palm with it, anointing the gemstones with her blood. She placed the crown in her pack, then held the jewels in both hands and seemed to be concentrating on them intently. There was a bright, sudden flash of emerald green light as she did this, which made me leap to my feet in order see what in the name of Hell itself was going on! Kate was passed out on the ground, breathing heavily. But at her feet lay the broken fragments of the three jewels, their power obviously having escaped from them. I put my arms around the young woman and tried to rouse her. She was mumbling something in the old language of the city of Kar'cosa, a language I had not heard spoken in centuries beyond counting. This sounded much like chanting, and as it seemed to reach a fevered pitch Kate sat up very quickly as her eyes snapped open to stare widely all around her. “Where am I?” she asked me, now in a more modern and understandable tongue. She looked at me and said excitedly: “Ah yes! I remember now. My name is Katethka now.” her manner was strange, as she continued: “I have been asleep for so very long, but I am awake now my love! We will not be so easily parted again.” she was acting like a woman possessed. I asked her: “Katie, tell me the last name you remember going by. Please!” she gazed deeply into my eyes as if peering into my soul, or even perhaps beyond it. Then, she said as if in a trance: “My name? You know it well, my love! My name is Camilla. Although if it pleases you to call me Katie, you may. I used to be Katethka, after all. Until I touched the sacred gemstones and awakened more fully! Now... it seems that I am complete. I am both your Katie and the Camilla you knew of old. We were always one, but a part of me slumbered below, in that place of the noble dead, and was unable to connect with the part of me that lives in the form of Katethka. When I died, my soul was split in two by the trauma of my death... but we are united once again, just as I am reunited with you once again... oh my love, my god!” I embraced her warmly, happy to hold her once again in my arms and to know that she lived at last. In truth, I did not know why I sought the crown as I did, but now I realized... all was according to destiny.

   I was wearing the crown on my head when we made our way back to Farith. I was wearing it still, in the hour of midnight... when descending upon the small town in a great and mighty throng was a legion of the walking dead, those who had slumbered in the tombs, crypts and catacombs deep beneath where they had lain in the bowels of the mountains for so many centuries. They came in force... along with the creatures from out of the terrible chasm who thus accompanied them. Some had long darts embedded in their skeletal forms, but apparently in their haste they had paid little to no heed to the ancient trap. They gathered all about Kate... Camilla... and I. We were their rulers, their sovereigns, and Cassilda's deathly form walked over to stand beside us. A bright flash of green light blazed, and flesh once more covered the bones of all the dead nobility of old Kar'cosa. A judgment had come upon Farith... and a doom long in the making. By morning, no one who dwelt in the town of Farith remained alive. Only those who so came to the place as visitors were spared, and they ran off screaming, to tell tales of the night when the dead returned with fury in their hearts towards these upstarts who dared to make their dwelling in such a once-sacred place. A place that was ours again! For the moons of Ra'qia had aligned just right, even as the season was at hand for this glorious resurrection to take place. They placed the tattered yellow gown upon me, and I accepted my old raiment with dignity and honor. Kar'cosa was no longer simply a place out of legends, it was a spiritual concept, a belief. Wherever we chose to dwell, that was where one may find the way, however perilous or strange, to lost Kar'cosa! I had not come to judge or to condemn, yet the evil, the prejudice, and the foolishness of Farith's people had sealed their fates at last. No militia of theirs remained, as we cut the bodies down from the gallows and the crosses upon which they hung! We breathed life into them, and they lived in renewed flesh again... joining us in our crusade, to restore the fair glory of our forgotten people. There was a storm out in the desert that night, and I was happy for it!
Kou_Indigo
Written by Kou_Indigo (Kara Lucielle Pythiana)
Published
Author's Note
This is continued from my previous work:
"Yellow King, Red Queen".
It is based upon some of my past-life memories.
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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