So you can Rule it
rating: +1+x

My King lay dying and I said nothing. Root Stone looked to the body of the King in front of him. The crispy flesh on the side of King Shield’s head had died long before he did. In the end the fire took him in another form, the old burns had turned orange-red by plague. His long, green, body was beginning to stiffen, it didn’t matter, the process had started.

King Shield’s shield was a circular piece of grey stone. In the center the diamond symbol of Kingship, and around it the four elemental symbols of water, fire, stone, and air. They set it on the center of the body and wrapped it in a woven cloth. This is the last time anyone will see his face. Face and burns vanished under the cloth and thin sticky sheets. A crown of woven grass was placed on his wrapped head. They picked up the body and set it in the coffin, inside the outline that kept his shape, also surrounded by elemental symbols. On the inside of the lid the afterlife had been carved, the island floating in the sea above, with the great tree growing from it. On the tree King Spear was waiting to see him. The lid was set over the body and sealed for the final time.

Priest Rain had served all through the King’s reign, and it was somehow fitting that he died in the same outbreak. The outbreak that was ravaging the city as they spoke. Root Stone had already ordered the infected quarantined, if the Fire Plague could take their King it could do anything. Unlike the last few priests, with their hundreds of green needles, Priest Flowers had come from the Royal Mother Tree, like Root Stone, and King Shield, and all the Plant Kings before him.

“May Shield, the King Under the Sun, the King of the River, the King of Fire, the King of the Hill, and the ruler of the Plant Kingdom, ascend peacefully to the afterlife and there bask under the shining sun as long as his body remains untouched. May his body remain untouched forever.”

“May his body remain untouched forever.” Stone and the others echoed, they bowed to the coffin and carried it outside the temple. Unlike with Spear, the crowd did not gather in the streets, Stone had declared it a health risk. Root Stone took his place on the royal elk and started behind the coffin being carried in front of them by priests. Priest Flowers took his place beside the Root while the crowd watched them from the windows, both at the coffin and at the Root. Root Stone was well aware of his short stature, how his body bent slightly to the side, and the tip of his head ended in a dip rather than a point. I do not look like a King, yet they will bow to me. For now they bowed to the coffin of their former King. The streets were empty and quiet, except for the hopping of the coffin bearers.

The throne room’s walls towered higher than most buildings in the city. Sun shined through the large windows and the space where the roof would normally be. They set the coffin on the pedestal in the middle of the room. Along the sides nobles had gathered. The Root and the Priest both hopped up the steps to the throne. Root Stone sat in the stone chair while Priest Flowers received the crown. Woven grass, three blades sticking up the front. One was charred black for the Fire Province, one wrapped in sealeaf for the River Province, and on the middle one a ring of stone sat at its base, for the Hill Province.

“Here, under the light of the Sun,” Priest Flowers spoke, “I decree King Stone, King of the River, King of Fire, King of the Hill, and Ruler of the Plant Kingdom.” He set the crown on King Stone’s deformed head. The row of nobles bowed, but otherwise said nothing. King Stone stood.

“The Shield of our Kingdom has been broken. Not by spears or maces, but by plague. A plague that can kill a King is a plague that must be contained. I will show it no mercy, nor will I my enemies. Those who wish to oppose this crown will be torn by it I promise you that. As for our great King Shield, bard, send him off with song.”

The bard began his song, ”I am the fire, the King of Fire said, I will not burn…” Stone stood up and left into the palace, Priest Flowers followed.

“Leave the coffin in the room for the rest of the day, no more than ten, no, twenty may be in the throne room at any time, or those showing signs of plague. When night comes put the body in the palace, when the sun rises again I will oversee the burial.”

“Yes, my King, may I ask, when will you plan to choose a new Root?”

“I’ll ponder it for now, and tell you when we’ve buried the King.”

King Stone went alone deep into the palace. He spotted the pool where the King’s water was collected. Dipping his stem into the pool, he got his first drink of the royal water. It feels like any other rainwater, but straight from the afterlife I suppose.

The sun disappeared behind the mountains. As told, the coffin of King Shield was brought inside and sat down in the storage room. King Stone entered alone, the rest of the room was filled with other artifacts from the past. The mace used to slay King Spear sat spotted with rust against the wall. It was during Spear’s unification he had first fought in battle, his Commander would go on to become Root Iron, along with the Commander that would become King Shield. Scattered about were some artifacts of the First, and items that had belonged to various Kings in the past. One of Shields pots, made of clay and painted blue and green, decorating the outside were sketches of his victories over the Hill Kingdom. Of course just inside the door his coffin rested.

Stone looked down at it, in the same stare and silence he had given the King on his deathbed. “I have spent my reign keeping the Kingdom together, so you can rule it.” The words echoed in his mind. Finally he sat down in front of it. “I should have said something to you. Anything… what could I have said? You just died… it doesn’t matter, I will join you and Spear eventually.” With that he stood up and left.

Who will be the next Root? The King thought after the sun came up. King Shield’s coffin was on the bed of a wagon, hidden under bricks. The King and the Priest watched from the palace as it started its journey. “It will be taken out of the city, where we will meet it and accompany it to the tomb.” The Priest had said. And they did just that.

The City Under the Sun retreated into the distance. The King rode only a small deer, and did not wear his crown, all not to attract unwanted attention. May his body remain untouched forever. The sun was high in the sky and the King continued to ponder the position of Root. The territories will not rebel again. Shield made sure of that. “I spent my reign keeping the Kingdom together…” The river province has been pacified, they will pose no threat. The Fire Kingdom watched their King burn, their faith in fire has been crushed. The Hill Kingdom killed their King after he dragged them into a war they could not win. “…So you can rule it.” I will not be at war, for once the King will rule the Kingdom. My Root will be my successor, I must pick someone to continue my legacy…

The sun was lowering itself to the horizon when they arrived at the steep foot of a mountain. Stone remembered when King Shield had shown him the tombs of the Kings. King Spear’s was walled up with bricks, painted onto it was a now faded pair of crossed spears. Shield’s was still open. Inside a large room opened up. As they unloaded the wagon the King took a peek inside. It was dry and quiet, the perfect place to keep a King’s body intact. Paintings of the King’s reign adorned the walls. He saw the image of the King sitting on his throne above the coffin of King Spear, beside him Priest Rain and Root Iron. The next painting was the King riding into battle against the Fire Province, and of their King burning on the pyre. He saw the execution of the Branch of the River and the Ambassador of the Hill. King Stone remembered the way they both thrashed in the water in their final moments. Finally he saw the King dying of the plague at the very end, the paint almost dry.

He hopped back out to find the coffin being gently carried off the wagon. King and Priest watched as they carried it inside and set it down in the center of the room. The mason took the bricks from the wagon and began to lay them down on the doorway. The sun dipped out of sight as he put the last brick into place. May he remain untouched forever.

“Your Root?” The Priest asked after a moment of silence.


The sun shined through the tops of the trees. In one King Stone stood, his spear pointed to the hawk in the tree across from him.

ZIP.

The arrow caught it in the chest, and the bird fell. The King looked to the Branch of the Hill, several trees over, his arm wrapped around a carved bow.

“Excellent shot!”

“Thank you, my King.”

They climbed down and joined the rest of the party, with them was the Ambassador of the Sun Province, and several of the King’s own military commanders, among them was Scout, widely renowned for his expedition outside the valley during King Shield’s first year. The rest of the party were all from the Hill, each three lobed with long, skinny, stems. The Branch’s carrier held a sack full of his knives and arrows and various other hunting tools. There were several Commanders belonging to the Hill as well. The one with a large scar across his head Stone remembered from the last attempted Hill rebellion, one of the soldiers who had betrayed their previous Hill King. Another was missing a portion of his arm, all the King knew was that his service dated back to Spear’s conquest. The Branch of the Hill picked up his prize bird, plucking the arrow out. The bird was large, it’s body made of brown feathers, it’s head pure white.

“One less blastphamous creature to tarnish the sun and eat our seeds.” The King said.

“Yes, I’ll hang it’s skeleton in the throne room.” The Branch responded.

King Stone was no stranger to the mountainous Hill Territory. He had fought in it during the last years of Spear’s campaign, and visited several times when King Shield had to take them again. King Shield is one winter gone, King Spear almost thirteen. Now Sun and Hill hunt together like old friends. The trees they walked under were smaller than the ones they had been born on. Unlike the mother trees, their leaves lifelessly rustled in the wind, and sometimes fell.

“One winter into your reign, my King. Tell me, how has the crown treated you?”

“I understand why the successors are often Roots. The second job is hard without the experience of the first.”

“I assume it’s like a Branch, on a much higher scale.”

“You can say that.”

“How has your new Root been?”

“Root Cloud has done well. Though he does not have much to do. I almost wish you would rebel again, so I could lead my troops to victory, while he handles the Kingdom.”

The Branch of the Hill laughed at that. “There are some who would like that, I’m not so ambitious.”

“After the last one, I would think not.”

The one with the scar gave him a look.

“The Lackwit you put in charge was just that, but The Betrayed might have been worse.”

“We have learned from our mistakes, both of us, peace is boring, but we have many winters of it ahead of us… I wonder, what will you be called when you’re gone?”

“That is for my successor to meditate on.”

“In the other three provinces small nobles have already begun to name themselves. Commoners may too in time, and yet you remain nameless until after your death.”

The branch stopped and looked down. King Spear looked too, and saw tracks.

“A bear, my King.”

“We will have enough time before the sun descends.”

King and Branch and party followed the tracks. They were led up and down the mountain, the Branch even sending an arrow into a rabbit as they did.

“Looks like names are no longer reserved for our leaders.”

“Yes, it has been confusing at times, we’ll probably need a way to tell royal and common names apart.”

“You could put your symbol inside of a box.”

“That could work. But a box seems dull.”

“Decorate it like a coffin.”

“How?”

“Carrier, knife.”

The carrier took the knife out of his pack and handed it to the Branch. He proceeded to carve the Kings stone symbol into a tree, around it he drew a rectangle, decorated on it’s top and bottom the way the front and back sides of a royal coffin are decorated.

“I like it, I will think on it.”

“As it pleases my King.”

They continued across the mountain, until finally they arrived at a small pile of dung, and tracks leading into a cave. The Branch drew his arrow and hopped slowly towards the mouth. He pointed the arrow straight ahead, moments later a roar was heard, and the big black bear charged from the darkness.

The arrow caught it in the shoulder, yet the animal pressed on. The Branch reached for another, but realized it was too late. The bear slammed into him, knocking both bow and quiver away. The bear bit into the Branch’s flesh, and began flailing him around. The King raised his spear and charged. Arrows began to appear in the bear’s side as King Stone thrust his spear into its stomach. It let go of the Branch and turned to the King, then to the rest of the party, pelting it with arrows. It took a step forward and collapsed.

The Branch of the Hill was missing an arm, the parts of his body he had were torn and bruised.

“My Branch!” The commander with the scar yelled, hopping to his leader, “We will take you back to the palace!”

The Branch of the Hill sat silently, in shock. The King turned to the rest of the party, “ASSEMBLE A STRETCHER!”

The Branch looked down at his wounds, and turned his head painfully to the scarred commander, “I don’t think I’ll last…”

The King silently looked down at the dying Branch. After another moment of silence the Branch spoke again, “An old aquaintance of mine… always said… I take too much from the forest… the forest would take me back.” He chuckled.

Another moment of silence followed, and was broken by a high pitched noise from the cave. Every head turned to look, the one of Commander Scout journeyed inside to find the source.

“Will they call me The Hunter? Or The Hunted?” The Branch said.

“My Branch, you must rest, the others will carry you-”

“I am ripped to shreds… I’m going to die here… this is what the end feels like?… I hate it… maybe… maybe this is how the creatures felt?… huh…”

Scout emerged from the cave, holding a small black creature, a cub.

“What shall we do with it, my King?”

The King was still too stunned to speak. “Bring it here.” The Branch said. The King looked back to the commander, and gave a small nod.

His one mangled arm stroked it’s fur. “What shall we do with it?” Scout again asked.

“Take care of it, I owe it’s mother that.” The Branch continued to pet the cub, watching it lay down next to him. His arm went limp.

“May the Great Tree accept him.” The one-armed Commander said.

"May the Great Tree accept him." The others echoed.

The Carrier walked up the mountain with The Branch’s tools, and walked back down with the Branch’s corpse. The sleeping cub was placed in a basket and taken with them. None spoke.

The Hill Palace was a series of rooms and passages cut straight into the rock. The gates at the front were immediately opened to the incoming party. The guards fell silent, eyeing the body sticking from the sack. The throne room was lined with stone carved pillars, just like the throne. A cleaner dropped his rag upon seeing the body.

“Are you dead?” The one-armed Commander yelled, “Get a table!”

The table was brought in front of the throne. The body of the Branch of the Hill was placed on it.

“Is that…” Nobody had noticed the Palace Priest enter, he had the same look of a Hill Province inhabitant, but a much softer mind. He hopped to the table, bowing to the corpse.

“We will prepare his body for the afterlife, while we do it would be best to choose his name.”

“Agreed.” The scarred Commander said. The rest looked to the King and his commanders.

“If I could ask, my King…” The one-armed Commander said, “…it is tradition that foreigners not be present.”

I am the King, Stone almost said, I will be here if I wish. But the Branch of the Hill was dead, and he knew he was hopping on fragile ground. He only nodded and left, his commanders trailing behind.

Outside the throne room he sat. The rest of his commanders were silent, except for one. Commander Scout took a seat next to him.

“Are you well, my King?”

“Yes.” Stone stared at the cub sleeping on the floor next to them.

“Have you decided to name him?”

“I haven’t even decided to keep him.”

“Well, I wanted to tell you… I’ll be leaving.”

“To where?”

“What is outside the valley?”

“You asked that same question to King Shield twelve winters ago.”

“Yes, may he remain untouched forever…”

The cub opened its black eyes, and sniffed around the leg of the bench.

“…My expedition seems to have inspired some, one moon ago a scavenger and his hired guard disappeared beyond the mountains.”

“What could have happened?”

“I spent a winter in the wasteland outside, I can tell you, the Kingdom of the First stretched further than we could ever know, the world stretches further than that most likely. Their ruins are everywhere, full of the strangest of machines and artifacts, I would not be shocked to find something dangerous.”

“I would not be either, I was told you fought a stone monster the size of a palace.”

“A false tale, I never found much to fight in truth. But there was always a feeling, there was something far away, something that could make or break us.”

“Is that why you came with us from the capital?”

“Yes, the Sun made me to go beyond the valley, it is there I will end.”

“Should you find something out there, come back.”

“I don’t think I can… no, I don’t think I will, I will only pave the way for future explorers, and I will carve your symbol where I make my final stand.”

“Defying your King? Then you cannot come back… and my symbol will be made in the style of a coffin from this day forth.”

Scout bowed, “As my King wishes, my last moment will be spent spreading your symbol.” With that he took his spear and hopped away, beginning his journey.

Stone looked to the cub, biting at the blunt end of one of his commander’s spears. The commander seemed to be enjoying the game. Moving it about for the bear to wrestle. His coat is black as ash.


The cave was dark and damp. King Stone hopped forward all the same. The way behind him pitch black, the way ahead brightening. He hopped faster, the voices grew louder. ”We will be one, we will be one wewillbeonewewillbeone…”

“We are one!” He yelled to the voice of King Spear.

“We are none!” The raspy voice of the King of Fire said, lunging at him, turning to ash.

You are none!” Stone said. I never saw the King of Fire before he burned, why can I see him now?

“Because we will be apart of you until your last days.” Root Iron said, the Branches of River and Hill stabbed him in the back, turning to water. The Branch of the Hill was pulled into the blackness by arms and rocks.

King Stone hopped towards the light as fast as he could, but he knew he was going deeper. He tripped on a rock and fell. In front of him King Shield fell. “We are one.” Woven cloth wrapped his body and disappeared into the ground.

The light was closer, Ash was striding beside him. The Hunted was in front of them, raising his mace. Ash growled, his mother appeared from the wall, letting out a rotting roar, tackling The Hunted into the wall, both disappearing.

He arrived at the end of the cave, and stopped where it opened up into a large room. A pine stood before him, appearing old, with few needles left.

“Go to where the Spear and Shield lie, and keep going.”

The pine faded as Scout hopped by them, into the open room. Shadows appeared on the walls, those of The First. They peeled themselves off, gaining shape. Scout looked back at the King as he was surrounded, full of fear.

“My King!” Priest Flowers yelled to him. King Stone found himself sitting in his chair in the royal quarters. What just happened? It had felt both unreal and real, but where he was now, this was real.

“My King!” The Priest yelled again. When he saw he had his attention he continued, “There is a strange noise outside! Everyone is afraid!”

The King jumped up, both hopping quickly to the throne room. Stone heard it now, a low deep hum. They emerged from the palace, and looked up to where the sound was originating. A bird? No… wait…

The bird had wings, but they did not flap, no part of it moved, instead it leaned to the side, and drifted away to the west. The onlookers were too stunned to move.

“The First!” One of them yelled.

Loud mumbles were coming from the crowd. Was it the first? Have they returned? May the sun shine on us…

He hopped in front of his throne and boomed to the crowd, “ENOUGH!” The crowd went silent, “We do not know if is the first, but you must not panic, if the First have truly returned we must stand as one under the sun! I will leave to discuss with the rest of my council.” King and Priest travelled back into the palace.

“What will we do?” Priest Flowers asked, “tales will begin to spread, citizens will panic!”

“Do you believe in visions, priest?”

“My King?”

“Visions… I had one… I must go west. Alone. I will return when the sun rises.”

“I… of course, My King.”

Ash was feasting on a tuber as Stone walked by the yard. The animal is almost big enough to ride, but a bear attracts attention. In his quarters stone removed his crown, and grabbed a spear and bag.

He left through the back gate of the palace, wandering through the City Under the Sun. None noticed their King, for the best. Most discussed the noisy bird from earlier. Whether The First had actually returned.

It was easiest to tell the common citizens that The First were gone. The more educated knew that they still existed, in small groups that are occasionally spotted on the outskirts of the valley. If they’ve been able to get a metal bird working…

One of the talking citizens mentioned Scout. The memory of the shadows surrounding him invaded his mind. Stone found a cart headed west, and asked for a ride.

“Can ya’ make it worth ma while?”

The King took a small clay pot from his bag.

“Rainwater.”

The cart driver accepted the water and climbed on. The cart was pulled away by a single deer, it’s antlers cut down should it decide to use them. The buildings around them grew smaller until they exited the city.

“What ya’ think it was?” The cart driver asked.

“I don’t know yet… I hope to find out.”

“It was headed where we’re going, you chasin it?”

“No… no I’m chasing something else.”

The sun was lower in the sky than it had been. King Stone recognized this portion of the road, “Stop, I part here.”

The cart stopped and Stone hopped off. The Driver bowed his head and said, “My King.” King Stone turned around with a slight shock, but only watched the cart ride away.

He continued until the sun was kissing the mountain tops, and he arrived at the steep mountainside. King Spear’s symbol was heavily faded, almost invisible on the old brick. The words echoed in Stone’s mind. wewillbeonewewillbeonewewillbeonewewillbenone.

King Shield’s symbol was flaking. The image of the sheets wrapping his body as it descended into the ground was still clear in front of him.

The tomb of King Stone himself was still in progress, the doorway had been carved, and work was beginning on the interior room. I will someday spend eternity here.

The King looked to the sun setting in the west, and climbed the mountainside towards it. While the evening star appeared briefly and left, then the rest. The red wanderer had moved further east since he last saw it, and the blue and white stripe cut across the sky.

Then he saw it, the slight glow of orange ahead. He hopped towards it. Arriving at the mouth of a large cave. The light was coming from below, he hopped towards it. The cave was the same size and shape as the one from his vision, but not as deep. Soon enough he arrived in an open room, in the center a fire burned. Behind it was the pine, he knew he was old, few needles still clung to his body.

“My King.” He bowed.

“Who are you?”

“You may call me the seer for convenience, I never had a name. Please, sit down.”

“No.”

“The visions told me you would be more comfortable.”

“The vision.”

“Yes, that was me. I told you to come and you did.”

“What do you want of me now?”

“To talk.”

Something jumped up in front of the Seer, a small black object, it hovered and spun.

“Do not fear, it will take several moments. Please, sit down.”

King Stone did as told, beside the Pine, “What is this?”

“This world is bigger and stranger than you can imagine, your valley is not the center of it. Neither is what’s outside.”

“The First?”

“Yes, and no. The sun burned bright the day they were broken. But The First regroup under ancient banners, far, far, away. Old Kings wake up one by one from their slumber. What you saw is only a taste of what is to come.”

“The sun will crush them again, it will strike down all who oppose it.”

“There are many things that will strike them down before the sun, mainly themselves. They will not be here for many, many winters. Many Kings will be in their tombs by then. The visions have shown me many things, told me what is best. It is best to do nothing.”

“Nothing? I am the King! I must defend my Kingdom any way I can! Do what I must!”

“What you must do is nothing, rule like you would without the knowledge, it is for later Kings to defend, but they can only do so with your non-doing.”

The small object landed on the ground, the Seer picked it up. “It says sunset. I must say I prefer the visions, they are less vague.”

“What are these visions?”

“When my friend and brother, Priest Gold, died, I grieved. We had overseen several Kings and the Unification together. After, I saw him in flashes, then more. I envisioned a King falling in battle, another consumed by fire. More, stabbed, executed, buried alive. I have lived long, but I feel it is time to join my friend in the afterlife.”

“You sent me visions of the past… but that last one… what happened to my friend? What happened to Scout?”

“Scout will travel his own path, he will never return, but he is far from the end. You are closer, but you will both leave your legacies.”

“You bring me here to tell me to do nothing and die?”

“Not nothing.” The Seer tossed the object to the King, “Keep it in the palace, a later pine will have use for it.”

The Seer stood and began to hop away.

“Can we defeat them?”

The Seer turned back, “The First have made none but enemies, before even the day the sun shined bright, should they destroy you, you would not be their first. The Children of the Night regroup under even older banners. Find the trickster, and the flowers may bloom again.”


It had been ten winters since King Stone was crowned. In that time he had learned much, and made improvements where he thought they were necessary. The private audience room was one such, for the matters that were better left behind closed doors. It was here he spoke with the Ambassador.

“The Branch of Fire is growing older, my King, he may not have long.”

“I trust you have chosen replacements?”

“We have, four canidates have been brought… it’s just, there’s an issue with the province itself.”

“Do not make your King ask.”

“Very well, the old blastphamous ways, those before the unification. When enemies were burned, when fire was King.”

“I remember well enough.”

“More are reverting to the old ways, that is why you must choose wisely. We need a Branch that will drive the Province in the right direction.”

“Of course, who are the four?”

“The first goes by the name Glowbright. The old Branch recommended him. He will keep basic order, but I fear not much more.”

“I do not need basic order, I need the province under the crown. He will not be the one.”

“Yes, my King. The second is Tinder. He claims he will allow a return to the old ways to a small degree-”

“Absolutely not, it begins with a small degree, ends with revolt. He will suffer an accident after the new Branch is chosen, I will make sure of it.”

“Y-yes… my King. The third is Darkbark. He is the Assistant of the Old Branch, though they say he spends most of his time hunting.”

“I do not need a hunter, give me the last one.”

“The last one, my personal recommendation. Is myself.”

The King was not amused, “Yourself?”

“I have served in the City Under the Sun for many winters, I know the true ways of the sun, and I have lived in The Black City of fire, I know their ways too. Make me Branch and I promise you the old ways will shrivel and die.”

The King thought for a moment, “You are the only one who is not useless or downright dangerous. Very well. Bow to me.”


“It is not right!” Sunflame said, “Who are you to deny one the afterlife?”

Skysmoke sat opposite to him, his stem in a jar of groundwater, “Our enemies, I don’t wanna see em here so I definitely don’t wanna see em up there.”

Sunflame’s home was the bottom floor of a three storied building, clay cups lined the shelves, each with a different design. Being a well-known local potter kept a roof over him, a roof he shared with his friend Skysmoke.

“It is the afterlife, all deserve a chance,” Sunflame was sliding a batch of newly made clay pots into the kiln. Fire is for creation, not destruction.

“This ain’t the afterlife, unda the ska is tha fight for survival.”

“Says the one without work.”

That wasn’t entirely true, after his budhood friend came to the door explaining he was out of work and home, he helped around the shop. Lighting the kiln and getting straw and logs especially, though that might have had something to do with his newfound obsession with the old ways.

Before he could respond, the door was knocked. Sunflame opened it to find one of the city garrison.

“Every able citizen has been called in front of the palace to hear from the new Branch, your possessions will be protected.”

“The Branch is dead?” asked Skysmoke, “The one that’s been in charge since the last rebellion? Finally!”

Both joined the crowd that was marching down to the palace. Almost the entirety of The Black City was gathering around. The Palace was a large mass of stone. It’s walls stained black by winters of smoke.

“I hope tha King chose… which one was it? Tinda! He promised restoration!”

It was not Tinder who emerged to the large platform just outside the palace. Though he had the same, hard, dark green flesh of most of the Fire Province’s inhabitants, he was unfamiliar.

“Citizens! As you know, our previous Branch has ascended to the afterlife, and is being prepared for burial as we speak. He has led us ever since the last Fire King foolishly burned himself in this very spot! He will not be forgotten. But a new Branch must take his place, and our King has chosen none other than myself!”

Skysmoke was visibly distraught, but continued to listen.

“The future under my rule will be bright! With only the sun to guide us! May it guide me for what I must do!”

The crowd was muttering by this point. They had talked about three contenders for the position, not this sudden forth one. Where is this going? A pair of what appeared to be servants brought out a large stone and a blade respectively.

“It has come to my attention, and the King’s, that there is one among us that has clung to the past. One that prevents us from seeing the future.”

The one they brought out was familiar. Tinder. Skysmoke froze, and looked on.

“STOP HIM! ONE OF YOU! PLEASE!”

They brought him to the large stone.

“I ONLY PREACHED JUSTICE! FAITH!”

They bent him over the stone.

“By decision of King Stone, may the sun shine on him, you are to be executed for your false faith.”

Please… please no!

With one swing it was done. The crowd was silent.


Skysmoke tensely threw more straw into the kiln.

“That’s too much! You’ll melt the clay!”

“Fire is hot as it need ta be!”

The followers of the old ways had not been happy about the execution, even after almost a moon’s time. The new Branch, now going by the name Sunswish, was putting stricter control over those who followed the old ways. Skysmoke had been going to their meetings, Sunflame knew, but he made sure to avoid them, no matter how many times he was pleaded with.

Sunflame thought it was good at first, that the old ways would not make a comeback, but the new methods seemed extreme. He ignored them as best he could, spending his days molding clay. He put many patterns on his pots: stripes, zigzags, scenes from wars past, but the familiar flame patterns were now gone. Just in case.

There was a knock on the door, it was the city garrison. Soon enough the population had once again gathered around the palace. Skysmoke looked to the Branch above with distaste as he stepped onto the platform above.

Branch Sunswish said nothing as a large cubular object was brought out, covered in a sheet of hide.

“I told you there would only be the sun to guide my rule. The holy ball of light which circles us above. It has come to my attention that not all see it this way…”

“He got that right,” Skysmoke said.

“…and so with the sun guiding me, I have taken it upon myself to make you see.”

Servants pulled off the hide. Underneath was a cage. Sunflame recognized him as someone Skysmoke once had over, another follower of the old way.

“It has occured to me I may not have made my message clear. There is no longer a place for the old ways in this Kingdom. Those who will cling to the past have no place either…”

Servants began piling logs and straw underneath the cage. He can’t be…

“I promised you my reign would be bright, and it shall.”

A servant handed him a torch. The one in the cage screamed. Citizens were looking away. The torch was thrown.

The cage lit up with light and smoke, fire ate away at the cage and the one in it. The screams grew louder, then stopped, the crowd was silent.


The followers of the old ways were less vocal after that. Every night another was burned on a pyre. Even Skysmoke kept a low profile, rarely leaving his home. Sunflame kept making and selling pots, trying to keep his mind off the rumors circling of what was to happen.

One day he heard scraping coming from outside his door. He opened it as the culprit ran, on his door an unfinished flame symbol had been carved. By the end of the day he had torn it down and commissioned a replacement. In the meantime he boarded it up from the inside. Outside he saw other doors marked with the flame symbol. Something would go down soon, he knew. He was right.

That night he and Skysmoke heard screams. Occasional at first, then more frequent. The fires in the house had been snuffed, better to look unoccupied. He hid near the back with the two who lived above him. Twig from the second floor, an immigrant from the River Province, and the nameless water collector from the third floor. Twig held his own small spear, while the rest wielded their hastily made sharpened sticks, their only weapons.

For what felt like the longest night of their lives they kept guard inside. Jumping at the banging on the covered doorframe. The banging stopped, and the window was ripped open.

Sunflame didn’t know what happened, but the four stared down at the perpetrator. Covered in holes on the floor. None had ever killed before, and they spent the rest of the night in silence. As the screams began to dwindle they heard it.

”KILL THEM! KILL THEM! THE HERETICS! KILL THEM! KILL THEM! HERETICS!”

The first rays of sunlight shined through the windows.


The Night of Darkness. They were calling it. So much smoke was thrown into the air that night that no stars could be seen. The new door had been installed, this one with a lock. The windows had been reinforced as well. Days of quiet went by as those affected either rebuilt or fled. The city was no longer a safe place.

There was a knock on the door. What does he have to say this time? But the streets were empty when the door was opened. Several members of the city garrison stood.

“Are you Sunflame?”

“Y-yes?”

“You are under arrest for harboring a follower of the old way.”

“Skysmoke? What did he do?”

Two garrison members went inside, the other two forced him out by the speartips. Both were marched to the palace where they were taken into the dungeon.

“They have no proof against us, Skysmoke, we will be let go soon enough.”

“Skysmoke?”

The voice belonged to another in the crowded cell.

“Blackcloud? How’d ya get here?”

“Same as you, they’ve been hunting us down since the Night of Darkness… who’s this?”

“I’m Sunflame, are you the reason I’m here?”

“I never saw you at any of the meetings.”

“He’s a old friend,” Skysmoke said, “the one a’ told ya I was stayin with.”

Sunflame hopped away, not wanting anymore part in their games. I should kick him out if we get out of this, he’s become more trouble than he’s worth.

He didn’t know how much time had passed, but it was no more than one, maybe two days. The followers discussed their next moves among themselves, Sunflame stayed outside the group as much as possible.

Finally a guard opened the door.

“All of you are to come with us.”

“Where?”

He did not answer. But they knew when they saw the large cage.

The one known as Blackcloud hopped quickly away, only to get tackled and stabbed as the rest were put inside.

“NO!” Sunflame screamed at them, “I HAD NO PART IN THIS! I HAVE WORSHIPPED THE SUN ALL MY LIFE! PLEASE!”

Skysmoke sat at the bottom of the cage nearby, “I’m… I’m sorry…” he muttered. Sunflame wanted to watch him burn, but he was too scared of burning himself.

The cage was rolled on logs outside the palace, onto the platform where Sunswish stood and the crowd looked on. A pile of straw and wood had been prepared.

“Before you are the heretics you hate so, those that have spat in the face of the sun. Today they will be silenced.”

I will burn, I will never see the afterlife, the great tree, the pure water beneath…

The screams were already piercing before the torch was thrown.


King Stone marched into the city upon Ash, the bear was big enough to ride now, though now his namesake was everywhere.

Root Snowflake rode to his left, Priest Flowers to his right, both upon deer. The Black City was before them, one in every three buildings was damaged. Citizens looked out their windows at the King who had brought it on them. Behind the King a unit of soldiers marched. Some looking around at the destruction, others away.

“Who goes there?” What could only be the Commander of the City Garrison asked, just before recognizing the crown, “My King!” he bowed.

“Your arrival was not announced.”

“You announced it yourself. Take me to the palace.”

“Yes, my King. My garrison can take your deer and bear-”

“The bear, the deer, my soldiers. We all go.”

“Of course, my King.”

They were brought to the large hall inside the palace. Guards of the garrison lined the walls, they and the royal soldiers examining each other. King and Root and Priest dismounted. Stone held up his spear, an intimidating message.

Branch Sunswish and the Commander both emerged in front of them, flanked by guards.

“My King, you must be tired, please, let my servants take your mounts.”

“Take the deer, leave the bear.”

The servants led the deer away as Ash sniffed around beside the King.

“I see you brought Flowers, but who is the other?”

“I am Root Snowflake, my promotion was recent.”

The workload had become too much for the aging King. He searched long and hard though the leadership ranks for a suitable Root, and on Priest Flower’s council, found one who could be more gentle and flexible than the King.

“It is good to meet a new Root then, would you like some rainwater? I’m sure you must be famished.”

“I would like to know what you did here.”

“Exactly as promised, the old ways are shriveling and dying.”

“Shriveling and burning you mean. What is that black mass on the platform outside?”

“What’s left of the heretics we burned last night.”

The leaders stood in a strange silence for several moments, until the Garrison Commander spoke up.

“We only did as ordered, my garrison-”

The King slammed the butt of his spear on the floor. Ash lunged at the Commander, biting and ripping. The Garrison hopped in in panic. The Royal soldiers dispatched them with ease. Four cornered the Branch where he stood, holding their spears to his face.

When the carnage was done none of the Branch’s guards were left standing. Ash held the Commander’s head in his mouth.


King, Root, and Priest stood on the platform, the crowd before them. There was nothing but silence. Servants piled straw and wood while others brought out the cage.

“IT WAS FOR YOU MY KING!” Branch Sunswish screamed as they set him on the pile, “IT WAS ALL FOR THE SUN!”

Priest Flowers hopped to the cage as the Branch yelled.

“Great Sun above, please forgive us for what we must do, for the one before you has tarnished your name. Please forgive us.”

He hopped back while the King was handed the torch. Please sun, forgive me for what I must do.


“Snowflake!” The King called from his bed, the Root came at once.

“I am old, Snowflake, I will go soon, and you will be King.”

“Of course, my King. I will continue your legacy.”

“No, don’t be like me, the time for fighting is over, the Kingdom needs a gentler ruler, one like you. You solved problems I couldn’t with a soft word. My time, the time for firmness, it’s over. The peaceful winter begins tomorrow. Open the window and leave me, I wish to spend my last night alone.”

The Root bowed, “Yes, My King, we will remember you.” He opened the window, the blizzard outside was strong, but quiet, and peaceful. Root and King exchanged a last look before leaving.

Twenty-two winters, his reign had been. It began with Flowers and Ash. But Priest Flowers and Ash were in the afterlife, and soon he would join them. Them and The Hunted. He remembered marching into The Black City, and ending the travesties that had occurred there. Then he looked to the black object sitting on the table. Sunset.

They regroup even now, but many Kings will be in their tombs when they arrive.

The cold wind snuffed out the nearby candle.

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