Hi everyone! So sorry for not getting stories or art to you last week. I ended up getting rather spontaneous LASIK out of nowhere, and it kind of hobbled my productivity (but luckily not my creativity). In the interest of doing the same thing everyone with LASIK ever does, I’d really recommend it if you’re interested in it. My eyes were awful, and I thought that I wouldn’t even qualify, but now, a little over a week later, I can see with around 20/15 vision. Not too shabby!
Anyway, before I so rudely interrupted myself, we were working on the story Remembered in Gold. I’d like to leave you off with the final part today, and I hope that you enjoy it. Looking back, the story came out of nowhere for me, but I’m happy it did. It let me venture away from the tried and true locales that I’ve already explored and gave me insights into other places in Tellest. Cheers!
Remembered in Gold
The pale gardens were hauntingly still in the setting sunlight. No longer filled to the brim with people, Kunal’s journey back to the palace was quiet and lonesome. It seemed that not a soul was awake, only the distant silhouettes of the palace guards clashing against that notion.
Kunal, dressed in black, walked ahead at his leisure. In the darkness, the golden trim of his shirt was unperceivable. As he drew closer toward the massive gates, he looked himself over again and again.
His heart beat furiously, and he found the only thing that steadied his breathing was the sight of the wildflowers, just illuminated by the multicolored abdomens of Lakmari’s lumibugs. They danced about, leaving beacons of blue and violet in the air. Some rested peacefully upon the statue of King Drupad, scattered halos of yellow upon his marble flesh.
The young man smiled as he considered that perch, where his life had been set to change. Taking a deep breath, Kunal strode forward.
At the gate, two burly guards held firm grasps on their spears. They said nothing as the visitor arrived, merely stepping aside to let him pass. He hesitated for a moment there, observing the silent guardians. Swallowing away his apprehension, he stepped inside the courtyard.
He halted again once inside, casting his gaze across the square. Though the palace was close to his home, he had never seen beyond the walls. Rows of golden statues lined the perimeter, their lustrous bodies catching the faint moonlight. Those ranks of effigies led past the courtyard to the palace proper, which Kunal stood in awe of.
“Impressive, is it not?” he heard. From the lighted entrance to the building, a tall broad silhouette gained clarity. A lighter-skinned man with a full beard approached, his physique nothing less than imposing. “When I first came to Lakmari, it left me with that same wide-eyed stare.”
As the man drew near, Kunal recalled where he recognized him from. This man was one of the prince’s advisors, who stood beside him during the Gathering.
“I’ve lived in the city all my life,” Kunalsaid. “But this is my first time seeing it this close.”
“It’s even more impressive on the inside. Come, I am to lead you to Sazim.” The man offered no time to reflect on that command. He pivoted on his heel and began back into the palace proper.
Kunal fell into step beside the fellow and entered the building with him. Despite the grandeur of the place, there were no guards beyond the pair at the main gates. Kunal looked this way and that, attempting to discern if any sentinels lurked where the chandeliers’ lights could not reach.
“Something the matter?”
Shaking his head, Kunal cleared his throat. “It’s very quiet in here.”
The stranger nodded. “Prince Sazim prefers it that way. Most days it’s just his highness, Cascadia, and me. Ah, forgive me. This lack of human contact has me forgetting to make my introductions. I am Rohan.” Though he kept walking, he held his hand out. Kunal hesitated for a moment before returning the gesture. The man squeezed, and the visitor nearly winced in reply. Rohan’s grip was fierce, but he released it after only a moment.
They proceeded, passing by many tapestries and portraits and beneath ornate archways that all seemed different than the last. To Kunal, it seemed they had walked for miles and in circles. Finally, they arrived at a large feasting room, a long table filled with food before them. From that distance, the room seemed otherwise empty, but as the two men approached, the chair on the far side of the table pressed out. Sazim rose and clapped his hands together.
“Ah, you’ve arrived,” he exclaimed. “I was worried Rohan had lost his way and we wouldn’t have a chance to give you a proper sendoff.”
The large man furled his brow at that notion but continued leading the young winner to the table. He pulled a chair out for Kunal and walked along the length of the furniture until he reached the prince, who looked somewhat smaller standing directly beside his advisor. Rohan leaned down and forward, speaking in hushed tones Kunal could not discern. Finally, Sazim nodded, dismissing his companion. In his absence, the prince took his seat once more.
“Let us proceed,” the prince bade. He reached forward, grasping a glass goblet filled to the brim with crimson liquid. “But first, a toast. To the many adventures you’ve yet to go on, and the safety and prosperity you will bring to Lakmari.” The prince spoke quickly, forcing Kunal to be prompt in finding his glass and lifting it before the toast ended. He noticed his glass was considerably emptier than that of his host’s. Despite that shift in the balance, Sazim finished the contents of his goblet before he placed it back upon the table.
His lips smacked together, and he brought his hands together in a hasty clap. “Let’s get to it, shall we?” he asked. Kunal nodded but nearly leapt from his seat when a pair of servants passed him on either side. They carried silver trays that remained covered, but the overwhelming aromas snuck out beneath those shells. “You’ve lived here all your life, haven’t you, Kunal?” the prince asked, much less interested in the food than his guest.
After a brief pause, the young man cleared his throat and shook his attention from the trays of mystery food. “Yes, my prince. Since birth.” As he spoke, another servant approached from one of the side chambers and brought a swollen wineskin to Sazim’s side. Once again, his goblet was filled to the brim.
“Then you have likely been made blissfully unaware of the outside world,” the prince said. “Lakmari is such a wonderful place because we have no worries. Not a care in the world. There is no fear of poverty. We are one of the safest places on Tellest. We never even have to worry about a shortage of food.”
At that, the servants who delivered the food returned and removed the covers from the trays. The aroma nearly knocked Kunal from his chair. Succulent white meats were stacked high on the largest trays, while exotic spices and vegetables lined the table’s perimeters. Plates of rice and curry and fruits were placed between the main courses. Kunal’s mouth watered at the sight of the spread.
Sazim flashed a weary grin. “Eat, my friend. Your task is not one I would want to endure on an empty stomach.”
The young man did not take that permission lightly. At once, he reached forward, scooping the various delicacies onto his tray. He reached as far as his seat would allow him. Even then, heaps of food found their way to his plate. He looked up at his host, who had accepted his servants’ offer to acquire his food for him. Kunal swallowed, and as the scent of the fowl wafted into his nostrils, he swore he could taste the tender flesh.
“What many of the Lakmari people do not know,” Sazim said, peering past his servants, “is that we are not as safe as we appear. There are bandits out on the roads. Not some worriless rabble like you might expect, but experienced highwaymen that could easily topple an entire town. This would cause great problems for our city, you understand.”
His mouth already full of food, Kunal could only nod in reply. A loud, satisfied sigh escaped him, and he leaned back in his chair as if that could disguise it. Though Sazim’s plate of delicacies was similarly arranged, he yet relied on his wine and nothing else.
“What if I told you we’ve found a way to keep the bandits content with their own territory? What if I said we could stay their unruly tendencies and keep them at bay?”
Kunal took a moment and swallowed all his food at once, leaning forward to accommodate the large task. “My lord, I am no great master of diplomacy or politics, but I would say that is a good path to tread upon.”
“Right you are, Kunal,” the prince said. “The answer to our problems lies in the hands of a group of sellswords we’ve worked with for some time. When one of our citizens leaves, it is to seek out these mercenaries. They protect our borders, enforce our way of life outside the walls of Lakmari, and in a way, keep the peace.”
“Our people are joining the sellswords?” Kunal surmised.
After a brief pause, Sazim took a last swig of his wine. “In a manner of speaking,” he finally said after a satisfied smack of his lips. He rose from his seat, the chair pressing out so fast it nearly tipped. The prince leaned upon the table with both hands, his eyes seeming to glare upon something quite distant. “Please, allow me to show you something.”
As he lifted himself off the table, he moved with a renewed vigor. Before Kunal rose from his seat to follow, Sazim was already on his way under one of the side arches. It was quiet but for their footsteps and dancing flames upon the candles in the many chandeliers overhead.
Before long, the two men arrived at the throne room of the palace. A darkselection of colors affronted Kunal, who was surprised to see the browns, auburns, and blacks about the room. The throne was significantly brighter, with golden trim beneath a plush red fabric.
Just at the bottom of the steps leading to the throne, another golden statue, like those Kunal had seen outside, stood sentry. Sazim turned to his guest with a wry grin upon his face. For the first time, Kunal could see how young the prince was. His highness must have only been several years his senior.
“Today you join among the ranks of all the men and women who have preceded you, including your father.”
As Kunal followed his prince, he neared that golden effigy and nearly tipped from his feet by the sight of it.
“Then this is your father, Johar?”
After steadying himself, Kunal took a deep breath and approached the statue. He reached out and touched the effigy’s broad shoulder. “In my mind, he’s so much older and greyer,” he laughed. “It’s good to see him as he was when he left.”
“How long has it been?” Sazim asked.
A quiet chortle escaped Kunal’s lips. “Sesha and I were much younger then.”
“My apologies, Your Highness. Sesha is my sister,” Kunal said, looking back to the statue of his father. “If what you say is true and I am to see these sellswords my father was sent to, he and I will be reunited soon.”
“Sooner than you might think.”
Both men turned to the throne then, and the antechamber behind it. The fair blonde woman sauntered forward with grace and confidence. She met eyes with Kunal, who found himself as entranced with her as before.
“Priestess Cascadia,” Sazim spoke, agitation clear in his throat. “You are early.”
“The night grows long, my prince,” she returned. “Perhaps you discussed things while you supped on dinner that you could have left aside.”
Cascadia passed behind Sazim, and Kunal could feel the tension in the room. He looked again to the effigy of his father.
“We needn’t waste time here,” the priestess went on. “Shyamal is not known for patience. Neither are the rest of his men, including the one you call advisor.”
Their conversation went on in quiet, tense tones. Kunal ignored it as best he could, focusing instead on the golden figure of Johar. It looked so like his father, every nuance just as he remembered all those years ago. The only thing that seemed at odds with the man he remembered was his eyes. They appeared so full of concern, so wide and apprehensive.
Kunal felt the tender grasp on his hand and looked down. Cascadia’s delicate fingers wrapped around his digits. His eyes slowly lifted from her waist until he was caught in her hypnotic gaze once more.
Though he felt the shiver ripple down his spine, he could do nothing to shake it free. The priestess had him locked in place, her eyes narrowed and a scowl set upon her face.
He tried to speak, but no words would come. He tried to move but could not flex a muscle. Cascadia lifted his arm, holding it out before him, and turned him toward the statue of his father.
“It is time,” the priestess said.
A regretful sigh escaped the prince as he approached his guest. He set his hand upon Kunal’s outstretched arm. “I’m sorry about this,” Sazim insisted. “Truly I am.”
From his wrist, a burst of pain nearly shook Kunal to his core. He could neither wince nor scold, only caught in Cascadia’s perpetual gaze. But he could see, in his peripheral vision, the transformation that occurred.
His caramel-colored skin took on a new hue. An inch at a time, Kunal turned to gold. He could feel the pain coursing through his body and the change taking place. As the enchantment surged up his arm, his body felt heavier.
Cascadia looked on with those spiteful eyes, but Sazim bowed his head as his power transformed his visitor. The gold leeched past Kunal’s shoulder, festering in him like a plague.
He only wanted to howl out in pain, but his lips refused to budge. Instead, as the magic moved up through his throat, he felt his breath slipping away.
Kunal saw his father in a new light then, even as he could feel his head growing heavy.
Johar had never left Lakmari.
And neither would he.