Palmeida, The Burning Market Series

Part II Ep V: The Last Arrow

War Stories: Part II Ep V: The Last ArrowThe council of Carane streamed in solemnly over the course of the morning, occupying the wide but otherwise nondescript hall of the Carsanion Senate with their presence, their thoughts and their fears. Palmeida greeted them all as they entered and observed the gamut of expressions their minds portrayed, even though their faces through years of enactment remained impassive. She said nothing consoling however, for nothing was required to be said. The council was looking for results today, not hope. So she smiled instead, spoke politely and enquired about their well-being. She noticed something else in the behaviour of the nobles. Each took one look at the hall and enquired about their fellow councillors before stepping in. If they couldn’t find them, they chose to wait instead and proceeded only after a few of them had gathered, like a flock of birds who are only comfortable in packs. Fjor, the first to arrive in the morning, was comfortably seated and was more than amused at the behaviour of this flock who chose to stay far away from him. His frail form breathed it all in: the fear and the power. At long last, he had become a lion in the minds of the people, even if for a short time. At long last, he had made his mark on the world. He smiled to himself: a warm, true smile. Life, after all, was not in vain.

Palmeida observed Fjor’s arrogance from a distance. Only one word rose to her mind. Pity. She distracted herself by looking for others. Almost every councillor had arrived. Just two were left. From the ones that remain. Her thoughts went back to the charred remnants of the three dead councillors that lay in her hospital morgue. Mere bones where once there had been lives. The fire had taken everything from them. And there was only one person responsible for it.

Palmeida looked at Fjor again who was talking to the companion he had brought with himself, a young lad from his carpentry shop. Palmeida looked for signs of nervousness from the boy, but found none. If he were fearful of the consequences today, he was sure hiding it well. Palmeida smiled and watched the last two councillors arrive. She addressed Stizlam Tepalmi. “We are graced by your presence” The councillor smiled back although his haggard eyes betrayed his true emotions. “Today is the day for justice” he said. “This needs to end today”

Palmeida nodded. “We are confident that it will”. Stizlam nodded back. Palmeida smiled at a person behind the councillor. “So how does it feel to be alive?” The councillor turned around to find Vyanaar. “My Sovereign” bowed the councillor. Vyanaar continued “Kerii tells me you are recovering well.” The Sovereign paused. “Since after the failed assassination attempt that is”

Stizlam nodded. “The trauma still remains, but yes she is right. As you are already aware, I owe my life to her. Their attempt would not have failed, had she not aided me. Is she here today? I’d like to thank her again”

“Yes, she should be here shortly” Vyanaar said. Stizlam exited presently. “Look at them all” the Sovereign said to Palmeida when just the two remained. “The councillors are supposed to be the foundation of Carane. The combined strength on which the future of this empire rests. And look at them now.” He observed them all and added after a pause. “Weak”

“Not everyone is” Palmeida replied, titling her head to Stizlam. “Less than a week ago, he was almost killed. Most likely by a supporter of Fjor. And yet, he is here today” After a pause she said “He must have contemplated the possible consequences that the day encompasses. He knows what hangs in the balance today. The decline of certain people versus the demise of an empire. And he knows the scales can tip either way”

The Sovereign nodded. “Yes, I wish more people could show such strength in times like these.” His eyes went from the councillors and glanced over at Fjor who was still talking to the boy with elaborate gestures. There was a strength in Fjor even though he was in his final few years, the Sovereign noted. Or maybe the strength existed because he had little time left. And little to lose. The Sovereign remembered Jermiaani’s remembrance of Fjor’s conversation with him. “I might fail but I have nothing to lose” The Sovereign passed his glance from Fjor to the boy near him, the youth from his carpentry shop. Unbidden, his thoughts went to the dead girl in The Burnt Market, the one that had died during the procession. She was probably just as young as him. The thought distracted the Sovereign. He looked away from the boy. His eyes scanned the room once again.

Palmeida had followed his gaze. “Look at me” she said to him, holding his hand. “I seek vengeance as much as you do.” She could almost feel the fire that had charred the councillors, the fire that had reduced power to ashes. “But we can only have a singular goal going in there.” She paused and looked the Sovereign. “And we need to understand clearly what that is going to be”

The Sovereign nodded. “There are just so many things that can go wrong.” he said gazing in the distance.

“I understand” Palmeida said, squeezing his hand tighter. “We cannot focus on everything that can go wrong.” She smiled and recounted a tale from another era, surprised at how pertinent it seemed today. “We just have one arrow…” The Sovereign smiled. He knew where this was headed. He let Palmeida continue nevertheless. “The one arrow. It’s the last arrow. That is it, that’s what separates us from being the hunters to becoming the hunted. Everything can go wrong while firing the last arrow… But if it hits the mark…” She trailed off waiting for the true owner of the words to recite them.

“Then we push the end for another day” the Sovereign completed. “I’m surprised that you remember” he smiled.

“I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to” Palmeida replied. “The rebellion was the darkest time we have gone through” she said, shivering.

She looked at the Sovereign as he nodded. “So what is our singular goal for today, our singular target for our last arrow?”

“Justice” said the Sovereign.

Copyright 2016, Vaibhav Thombre.

Palmeida, The Sovereign, The Vatarian War Series

Part I Ep VIII: Ambition

Post 8 Image FB Test CroppedThe sound of the gong reverberated through the empty hallways of the Laize Soraman, or the Tower of Dawn as it was so-often called, sending the perched birds in flight, an entire empire beneath them, seemingly calm and serene tonight, deprived of its war-torn state, dazzling under the massive moon with the hopefulness of peace, a promise that hung high in the air.

The gong reached Palmeida a few seconds after its inception, where she stood at the balcony of the Tower, gazing at her world below, and seeing not the dazzle of an empire or the hopefulness of peace; instead she saw a pause – a time suspended between the sways of the pendulum, where destruction lay at both ends, and this brief time, this ether, was all there was – all the peace that this empire – that any empire would find.

It was just the law of nature, it occurred to her, for war and peace to alternate in the sands of time. Indeed, history had been observant of the shifting sands, where empires had risen, colossal in sight, and fallen, ashes once more, the fabric of time stitching war and peace as alternates, but the fabric itself being eternal, consequently something neither war nor peace could bear forever. However, despite her morbid thoughts on the future, she was happy that the pendulum was suspended for now, and a smile crept upon her, and she sighed, reveling in the moonlight, and praying, she didn’t know to whom, for the pendulum to remain suspended.

The second gong sounded, and Palmeida turned, not at the sound of the gong, but at the soft tune which had begun floating, almost invisible behind the gong, but becoming more distinct by the instant. Instinctively and unthinking, she moved towards the source. It was a tune she had heard many times before; it bore the sounds of life, of joy, of revel interspersed with darkness and madness and grief, finally resting in wisdom, in drive, in ambition. She listened to it in its entirety, engrossed and in imbibition, and only once the final strokes had been pressed did she enter the room.

The Sovereign, Vyanaar Tark, heard the applause before he saw her enter the room. He smiled, and took a bow. “Still awake?”, she asked as the stepped into dim incandescence of the room.  “So are you…” replied Vyanaar.  Palmeida laughed. “Yeah… It’s beautiful out there tonight, isn’t it?” Vyanaar nodded. “Peace is always beautiful…” and after a pause “Also, always elusive…”

“Yes indeed…” said Palmeida. “I was just thinking the same… Heard anything from Kerii yet?”

The Sovereign shook his head. “The last I heard was a few days ago. About the emperor signing over the Vatarian empire. I am not expecting any new communication. Anything else would indicate something being wrong. So… silence, in this case, is truly gold…”

Palmeida nodded in silent agreement. “I wonder how long the peace will last though…”

“Well, ‘factually’ speaking – the emperor won’t have enough military strength to wage another attack. And since we own most of his dominion – he won’t bother to… But, ‘philosophically’ speaking – peace for Carane could end tomorrow with a new foe…”

“The Vatarian war was horrid enough” Palmeida shivered.

“Not quite” said the Sovereign. “Jankaha was the only state that they managed to capture. A miniscule borderland compared to the vast Carane, and inhabited only by tribes – and there too we managed to minimize our damage by taking everyone underground and having the planes fly in regularly with supplies. No – this was but a shadow of a war, even their attempts at assassination were half-baked” he said with a smile.

“Not funny” For a moment, Palmeida was transported back to the interrogation room, with its dazzling white walls, the misshapen clock, and the assassin’s screams…

“No.. the real war had happened many years ago” The Sovereign’s voice brought her back. “There were two of them actually – The Great War, which Armyan the III had fought… And the rebellion…”

“…In which you had fought” Palmeida completed the sentence. She shook her head. “Yes those were truly adverse times, no word can truly define the darkness of those years …”

The Sovereign nodded. “But it taught me a lot of things. It brought me the mental strength that I needed to become a ruler. It taught me to be immensely patient. And it showed me my true purpose in life. And…” he took her hand. “…it brought me everyone that is dear to me today. You, Jermiaani, Kerii… Each of you joined me at a different point in the rebellion. When I had started, I had started alone… The rebellion took a lot from me… But I am ‘The Sovereign’ today because of it, not just ‘Vyanaar Tark’ ”

Palmeida nodded comprehending.  “And what defines ‘The Sovereign’?” she asked smilingly.

“It’s just like the tune I was playing before…” The Sovereign started to play again. “…life begins with hopefulness, with earnest eyes, with empathy… And then ambition strikes, juvenile at first and bordered on the trivialities of life, but it teaches you things… Some of the intricacies of life… You begin to see the world beyond and you grow pessimistic, cynical even… This is where most of the lives stop… But this is not the end – no, this is only the chasm, the gulf – between how you begin life and how you choose to end it… And it here that you identify your true purpose in life, the drive, the ambition, not bordered on trivialities this time but fueled by the wisdom and sagacity to make the world a better place, and the abundant strength that you derive from this coupled with the intellect you have by now… This is enough to make your mark on the world, take you to dizzying heights – not for the power or vanity it may bring with it – but because from that pedestal you can truly make a difference.”

“This is what the rebellion taught you” Palmeida said “The many years in misery went on to create something beautiful for the world. It gave them a great ruler.”

Vyanaar nodded, without a hint of arrogance. Without being proud or insolent, just purely acknowledging the fact.

“And that is what defines the Sovereign…” he pondered, his fingers still on the keys, the music still afloat.

“You should chronicle it all sometime…” Palmeida said smilingly. “The many years of the rebellion, the darkness, the war, your origin, the decline of the empire, the rise of the Sovereign, the beginning of a new era…  It would serve as a beacon of strength to others. It would teach them a lot of things. Like it has taught you. Most of Carane believes you are some sort of God, born in greatness. But the truth is you have built yourself this way… over the many years… and you are still not there yet, if you ask me.”

Vyanaar laughed. “All right… And what would you have me call this story, this ‘chronicle’ that you speak of?” He stopped playing the music, looking expectantly at her.

“The Sovereign’s Ambition” she said.

Copyright 2016, Vaibhav Thombre

Palmeida, The Vatarian War Series

Part I Ep IV: The Dead and the Dying

Post 4 Image FB Test CroppedThe room was bathed in dazzling white light. It was a morbid room, as it was expected to be, having witnessed many years of horrors. The walls were stark white, partly in repentance and partly in pretense at all the red they had seen, hiding their misery from the common eye. Palmeida Orthvana, the head of healers, had no common eye. She knew exactly what the room would speak if given a chance; indeed, she felt the words would come out in screams than in conversation, the walls having seen and suffered for too long. She felt no remorse – neither for the room, nor for the many occupants it had housed over the years. She lay seated in a far corner of the room, fiddling with the clock in front of her, seeing nothing in particular, visibly calm but distracted and distressed. It wasn’t the morbid room that distracted her – not the bright lights, not the chill that cut like knives, not the equally morbid people on the other side of the wall; Not even the assassin she was about to interrogate.

The clock in her hands was no extraordinary device. It had been white once, she noted absently, now faded with the time it still told. It was cold and heavy, made misshapen with time. If only it could die, she thought – and yet it was destined to live on forever, whether functioning or not. There was no escape from this world, it couldn’t decay – it was destined to observe the horrors of the interrogation room, as it had been doing quite efficiently so far. She brought her mind back to the room and to the task at hand. Thoughts ran rapidly through her mind as she prepared herself for the interrogation. She was accustomed to the entire process quite well, indeed it had become second nature. So much so that she felt it beneath her to sit in on most of these sessions now. She had many healers for that. However, today was different. She glanced at the bright wall to her right and saw beyond despite the wall screening nothing. Her fingers, accustomed to the practice she was about to undertake, understood the task they had for themselves. 10 minutes – the clock soon read.

She cleared her throat even as she cleared her mind. She nodded silently to her assisting healer for the session. The healer, who had been monitoring the assassin in front of her, now made a series of adjustments on the apparatus. The assassin’s vitals changed. A beeping noise could be heard, not loud in its nature, but sonorous beyond what the room could take. It pierced the ears of the people in the room, while the clock ticked away loudly. The assassin opened his eyes.

Incredulity seemed to be his first response. Madness being second. He stood screaming for several seconds, chained to the metallic structure. Palmeida glanced at the assistant who showed no signs of distress at the sight in front of her. She had been expecting no less.

The screaming stopped. Palmeida glanced at the clock in front of her. A little over 8 minutes. She began “Today at 18:36, you breached an armed outpost and infiltrated a military area” she spoke, steel in her eyes. “On whose orders?”

The assassin was beyond grief and misery, now that the nature of events had dawned on him. He looked around, twisting his head rapidly in many directions, until he found what he was looking for. “Why..” he said. “Why did you bring me back?” He looked over at himself, lying on a stretched surface, cords plugged into him. He was clearly dead.

Tears rolled down his eyes. A let out a cry that rang through the desolate room. It suited the cry of a ghost, thought Palmeida abstractedly. “On whose orders?” she repeated.

The assassin didn’t answer. 6 minutes.

Palmeida leaned back. “You were sent here to assassin the Sovereign. You breached four levels of security, you knew the lay of the land. You knew exactly where to find him.” She paused. “Who has been helping you?” She glanced at the white wall opposite to her without glancing at it. She was fully aware of the people beyond. She decided to remain focused for the person in front of her. For now.

The assassin, his eyes ludicrous, gazed at Palmeida. “Do you realize what you have done??” he asked her. “You have defied the laws of nature. You have defied the Gods themselves. This is an abomination.” He pointed furiously to himself and his dead self. “You people of Carane don’t understand… Life is not yours to give…”

“But is it to take?” asked Palmeida, calm but the asperity singing through her voice.

The assassin kept shaking his head, vigorously, over and over. “The Gods are going to curse you over this. You have changed the nature of life.”

“There is only one God” replied Palmeida. “The one you tried to kill”

The assassin stood staring at her, while the insolence took his breath away. “Men don’t become Gods” he educated her. “No matter what their actions. They always remain weak in the eyes of the true Gods. And…” he smiled mockingly “I stabbed your God. I watched him die”

“Are you sure?” She nodded at her assistant, who flipped a switch. The assassin turned his attention to the wall as it withered and revealed a screen, a view beyond. There were several people standing, people he didn’t recognize, but there was one he did. Unmistakably it was him – stoic, observant, his eyes incriminating.

“It can’t be…” The words escaped him before he could process it all. Palmeida, satisfied with the effect it had on the room’s occupant, nodded once more to the assistant. The wall rose back into sight, blocking this world from any visions into the surreal.

“On whose orders?” Palmeida repeated. The clock continued to tick loudly, interspersed with the shrill beeping of the assassin’s vitals. 2 minutes, she saw.

“You can’t break me” the assassin answered. “I shall not betray who I serve”

“Did you see what lies beyond?” asked Palmeida, an innocent inquisitiveness in her voice. “We can reverse that. You can choose existence over finality…”

The assassin shuddered. The chasm came back to him, infinite and final, full of nothingness…

Thirty seconds.

Your time is running out” Palmeida showed him the clock. The assassin could feel his vitals diminishing… “No… please… make it stop…” he cried out. He told her – the plot, the enemy, the traitor. It didn’t surprise her. The Sovereign had been expecting the same. This had been mere confirmation.

Palmeida rose from her chair and proceeded to leave the room. The assassin continued to decline, unable to comprehend. “I told you everything” he called out behind her desperately. Palmeida turned as she reached the door. “You promised.” There was boundless fear and a shadow of hope in his voice.

“We don’t tempt the true Gods too much…” she spoke, as the heavy metallic door swung open. She stepped out, leaving the room for the dead and the dying…

Copyright 2016, Vaibhav Thombre