Xul chewed what remained of his portion of sage rabbit with rapidity as he settled down cross-legged upon the oak stump in the clearing where the group had set camp. He wiped the tasty grease from his lips with the back of his hand.
With care only reserved for priceless scrolls, Xul opened the narrow tome covered in crushed maroon velvet. Gently working his usual marker ribbon, the aged vellum pages parted to where he had last left off. “Ah, here.” As though the others sat around the stump could see, Xul pointed to where he had left off on the page of ancient Rak’ri text blocks. “The Chalice of Life…
And so King Arnac, now the Master of the land to which he had been born a peasant, Ruler of an empire that spanned all known realms hemmed in by the oceans, snatched up the Chalice of Life with his right hand for his left held the power unequalled Orb of Time. Deftly, working the Chalice–the ruby encrusted, beaten bronze heirloom of the Dragon Slayers riveted with gold–with quick thrusts as though it were a living dagger trying to stab at his heart, King Arnac kept the tiniest of droplets from breaching the wide brim. The sun danced on this golden breastplate as his ghost dragon mail whispered promises of death into the minds of those bearing witness to the great King’s legerity only found in the ancient–believed ended–linage of the Twok Fire-Sword Giant-Fist, the Grim Wyrm Slayer.
The sun had all but left the sky before he quelled and controlled the very Chalice of Life said to contain the last remaining crimson of the thrice cursed Grim Wyrm. Then, and only then, did he allow himself to take rest in the great oak throne of the vanquished Master Vampire to wait for the coming dark. Those subjects bold enough to stay to see if the threat from the grave had truly been ended took up positions behind the mighty throne. The bare few there took up totem and performed rituals said to ward off the undead — rituals that no one had ever lived to lend credence to. With shaking knees and quivering lips, Arnac’s soon-to-be Ten Dukes waited.
When the sun had gone beyond the ocean, and all the formerly subjugated vampires rose, they found their minds and actions unhampered by the sole will controlling them for so long. Greedy as only goblins were thought to be, the ivory skinned dead rushed to the throne room to establish their new master. There, they found King Arnac with the Chalice of Life in hand, waiting for them; for it was the Chalice of Life, not the will of the Master Vampire, that held sway over them. Undead as witness, the King told his Ten Dukes to take one of his then daggers back to his realm and stake out the land they would real in his stead. The King then set vampires will for them. Tirelessly, as only the dead can be, they had spent the following months of nights spreading word of the King’s decree while retreating all of the riches they had amassed through their curse-extended lives. Then, once their coffers were empty, King Arnac had the vampires wait with him to greet the sun.
Decades later the last of the Ten Dukes, old and infirm, returned to the throne room with the ten daggers to ask who should be heir to the one realm that had been broken into ten and, because of time, had become one again. The Last True Duke said he did not see movement in the Kings resplendent armor. He did not see eyes or a mouth in the King’s Helm, yet, he heard Arnac’s voice as clearly as the armor’s threats almost a lifetime ago. The King commanded The Last True Duke to return the daggers to their realms. Anyone who could hold one of the daggers without everyone wanting to kill them would become the new Duke and, so then, the dagger and title should be passed on. The Last Duke did as the King commanded adding that the King had renounced his title. Arnac, the peasant, will sit upon the Dead Throne among blood, time, dust, and gold waiting until the ten realms–once again–needs his help and ultimate guidance.
A shiver ran up Xul’s spine breaking the words spellbinding effect. The night’s chill had crept on him, yet that wasn’t what shook him. Kelmer, the barbarian who never met a book he liked, held his lantern over Xul’s shoulder. Again fear, not cold, racked him. Had the big man finally listened to a story? Worse, did he also know? If so, could they keep it between them?
The barrel chested man shirked off one of his furs and draped it over Xul. “Those Rak’ri scholars-folk sure do know how to tell boring stories.” Kelmer raised the lamp to show the rest of the party fast asleep. “No fighting.” Kelmer grunted his disgust. “And no blood besides what was in that dumb blood-cup thing. And even that didn’t spill nothin’.”
Xul pulled the prickly fur tight. “I know and–“
Tapping his dagger, Kelmer raised his voice just loud enough to overpower Xul, but not so loud as to rouse their companions. “How about we put that little, stupid, old book away for tonight?”
Xul nodded and did. That tapping motion of Kelmer’s had proceeded several books being ripped from Xul’s hands before the musclebound dolt destroyed them.
Kelmer stalked off to patrol.
The fur helped Xul’s body, but did nothing for the icy chill building deep in his core. This tale held the last clue. King Arnac’s final resting place was on the Master Vampire’s throne. Xul fished his maproll out, flipped to Hembe’s overview, and let his eyes lock on the desolate Black Cliffs.
Xul spoke to himself. “Has to be. It’s the only place that would fit the various references to tales of the undead holding land.” Xul bit his lip. If he told his friends, they’d all want to go. Xul whispered the rest of his thought, “But King Arnac isn’t dead and resting. He’s waiting.”
© Ezekiel James Boston