Two empires clash while spiritual forces from the ancient past enter the world of the living.
Behind him lay the dry sands of the plain, scorched by the desert sun. A pillar of smoke drifted horizontally across the horizon; black, bleak, whispering ashes of the charred life that once was but never to be again. In front of him lay a simple oasis of yellow grass and foreign brown bushes, huts scattered about in a circular fashion, the largest of them lay within the center of these huts. A poor people. Maybe even a nomadic people, for certainly there was no water around to sustain them. On the horizon beyond this miniscule outcropping of civilization, a mirage of mountains rippled in the heat.
“They do not respond, your majesty.” The soldier beside him spoke.
“Do they speak our language?” He replied.
“No, they do not. But their eyes say plainly that they know of us. Who could mistake us?”
King Phaethon smiled then, his dark eyes shifting from the village to the army that stood before him. Ten thousand strong they had begun two fortnights ago, and ten thousand strong they remained today. Their tracks led hundreds of miles from the north, and in its wake were left banners of violet and indigo, left to smolder in the foul ashes of smoke and dust. With every step his steed took, the larger his kingdom grew, and the more the nomads came to fear him.
“What says Simmian from the east?” The king turned to his soldier, his second in command, the winged messenger who watched where he could not: the loyal Paros.
“He has made stop at a waterfront, a short stream that they will follow south. No encounters from the last post,” Paros said without pause.
“Very well,” the king nodded, his eyes darting back to the village before him. There wasn’t a soul to be seen, and though these nomads deserved little of his attention, a chill shivered through the pulsing veins in his neck, gliding through his sharp jawline and tingling the ears bejeweled in gold rings. He closed his eyes for a moment and felt Paros looking at him.
Phaethon opened his eyes. “Do they resist?”
“They sit with their weapons in hand and refrain from speaking to us.”
Phaethon nodded with indifference. “Burn them.”
Paros bowed low upon his mount, his rusty umber hair falling in thinning curls over his scarred features. He was older than the king, a brilliant though ancient tactician, and a man that Phaethon knew he could place his dear life on. The dark eyes squinted as he watched the commander’s grey steed flecked with white bound quickly to the front lines. The voices were distant, but Phaethon’s ears were sharp. He heard the short commands Paros barked to a small group of ten who had been waiting patiently for the village’s fate. The grey steed circled and stomped in anticipation as Paros was handed a torch almost as long as the commander himself. A boy on the sands not older than fourteen, dodging the snorting horse, wavered with the lampstick and managed to set Paros’ torch sputtering to life. In an instant, an angry blaze roared to life.
Quickly, Paros waved his torch in a large arc, catching a united tent of ten sticks ablaze, and even before the last put forth its spit, the grey steed had started with the ten ebony steeds following at its heels. The dust rose high and moved quickly towards the village.
A thunderous bellow reverbed across the sand as Paros reached the village. Behind him, a thousand spears pounded the earth, a thousand swords clashed, a thousand bows beat together, ten thousand voices shouted the chant of Phaethon’s Army.
Now King Phaethon revealed the smallest hint of pleasure as his black eyes glittered in the sun high above him.
The eleven men followed each other in a gallop, holding their torches high and low as they thundered through the village. Rooftop after rooftop exploded in fire. Every bush caught aflame, every fence post and every cart trampled and set ablaze. Before the horsemen had completed their ring, the voices of the burning souls reached the ears of the king. In a moment, their cries reached the heavens. Those that dashed from their burning shelters received a bludgeon to their head and collapsed lifeless onto the sand.
“May Basith-ilim have mercy on your souls,” Phaethon said to himself, and lifted his head proudly.
A minute passed, and as the flames climbed higher in to the bright afternoon sky, the billowing black smoke became just another silent column of pitch in the desert.