The Empire of Carane: The Vatarian War
Part One of ‘The Empire of Carane’ Saga
The Empire of Carane: The Vatarian War
By Vaibhav Thombre
Copyright 2016 Vaibhav Thombre
Shakespir Edition, License Notes:
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: The Calm in The Storm
The Sovereign stood at the edge of the world, gazing upon the vast empire in front of him, the Haizi wind bellowing strongly in his face, threatening to topple the world as he knew it. It didn’t bother him. Things like these – the “forces” of nature seldom did. These were trivialities in his mind, even though they terrified some of the wisest people of his era. Clearly, they were not wise enough, the Sovereign reminded himself. It was reassuring to him that he was able to process and segregate thoughts as they came in, in spite of the storm in his world. And he wasn’t thinking about the Haizi storm as he thought this – but the storm inside of him.
The sea of the Sovereign’s mind rose and fell, in regular, systematic and rhythmic motion, as the Sovereign brought the umpteen thoughts in his mind into the places where they belonged. For the thoughts that he found were new and unrelated to anything he had previously examined or understood, he categorized them into new areas, always keeping sight of the vast empire that he had built inside of his mind, of which the Empire of Carane, his dominion in this world, was probably just a fraction.
The Sovereign, his eyes closed, breathing in the sea that the Haizi wind brought with it, marveled at his own creation as he looked proudly at his thoughts – the ambition, the courage, the strategy and the vision that he knew would take him places in the years to come. Some would say that the Sovereign was being immodest as he was thinking this, but then they would be wrong. There was a fine line between knowing something and clinging to its belief, the Sovereign always felt. This was the former. The Sovereign hardly ever engaged in the latter. He was an extremely pragmatic person, yet that never stopped his soaring ambitions. So, when the Sovereign thought that he “knew” something, that usually turned out to be true, in spite of what things would have seemed like at the surface.
This “instinct”, as the world saw it, had served him well several times, yielding to umpteen successful battles, growing his empire ever the more with every conquest, yielding the world to him. It was how he had risen from being a largely unknown figure to becoming a force to be reckoned with. The people had seen in a daze as the Sovereign rose in a blazing manner, his wings getting wider and wider, encompassing all, making himself stronger with every flight.
There were those that hated this of course. The Sovereign had no shortage of foes, and not as many well-wishers. There were few people dear to him that he could say were beyond jealousy – others weren’t as wise. He sometimes wondered child-like, how people could be so consumed by the world that they couldn’t see the realities of life. And yet, it couldn’t be changed. Not that it bothered him. Trivialities, he reminded himself, and then smiling, he opened his eyes and felt the Haizi wind reassuringly around him. He knew that he would figure out how to deal with their latest strikes against him.
The Sovereign had a lot of plans for this world of his, and even though he had come a long way, he felt that he had equally long way to go. It was that, that demanded his attention currently – and which would continue to soak up his interest and curiosity going forward. His eyes twinkled at the prospect and his heart pumped with more vigour. He took a deep breath as he looked beyond the horizon, beyond the edge of the world, beyond the Laize Soraman, the tallest building of the Empire of Carane, as he marveled at the way he had handled the time before _]and at his plans for the [_time ahead…
Chapter Two: War-torn
The rain felt like stones pelting down from above. The two kids, who, a second ago had been frolicking in the puddles interspersed with the long brown grass of Jankaha, could now be seen scampering toward the battered outpost, their only source of shelter for miles together, a dilapidated tin roof giving them the hope of safety and comfort, in a world where neither was granted or even understood.
The kids were unperturbed however, the joy of the morning undiminished on their faces. Failing in their attempts to cover their heads against the downpour, the kids were still smiling when they reached the outpost, the cry of the rain turning from the patter on the soil to the gunfire against the roof. They cast their eyes towards the blackened sky through the tears in the roof and gazed at in awe, as if it were a sight to behold and not a forewarning of approaching danger.
Then, bored, they cast their attention to other interesting things around, within the confines of the outpost of course, collecting souvenirs as they found them: a shell-stone, broken colored glass, a piece of string. The outpost had no walls, whether by design or by accident, the kids couldn’t tell. However, the concrete lining at the floor was irregular, so it was likely that it was the latter. One of the kids kicked it, and a portion of the remains just slid off, probably made weak with time. The kid raised his eyes to look beyond; he could see the vast fields of Jankaha as far as his eyes could take him, the tall brown grass looking dull and muddy through the veil of misty white of the rain. There was not another soul in sight. They were all in hiding. In fear, he had been told, and had nodded in comprehension, although the thought had been alien to him.
War was a word he heard often along with bombings. Jankaha was part of the country Carane, he had been told and the enemy was drawing closer by the day. Inquisitively he had asked “Why war?”, but the elders never had a common answer. Each told him a different story, often contradicting what someone else had told him already. His mother had told him that they did not want him concerned with this, and hence they invented a story each time – but the kid was confused and had started to feel skeptical, although he wouldn’t have been able to define what he felt.
However, if there was something that the all the elders agreed upon, it was the [_Sovereign. _]This word was uttered most throughout the day, the kid had observed, much more than war. He could see his mother’s face light up when they got the latest news about the Sovereign. He was their only provider of rations after all, taking care of the people of Jankaha who had been driven away from their homes. The kid glanced at the square piece of wood covering the tunnel that the Jankahans had used, leading to his new home.
Deep, deep, deep it goes, his mother had told him, [_like a maze, taking us to many worlds. Ours being only one of them. _]Carane was full of this maze, the kid had been told, if you knew where to look. Not many did, of course. The kid now looked anxiously at his friend as he noted the passing time. The rain was starting to slow down again. The bird was late today. Still, it would be several more minutes before the droning noise of the bird would thunder in the now forlorn sky. The kids looked at the metallic body with awe as the bird slowed down, hovering just above the outpost, miles out of anybody’s reach of course. The kids waited expectantly, understanding the task at hand, and yet dreaming just a bit bigger, of driving such a bird when they were older. The elders would often smile sadly at these ingenuous beliefs, having dreamed and lost. The kids knew not of loss however and so they dreamed boundless, of piloting the planes, flying above the lands, the world beneath them. Interestingly, while at it, they thought not of the war that these planes were built for. Pristine or naïve, one would wonder – and remain wondering.
As if almost on cue, the plane was accompanied with another noise, this one being a loud blaring noise from the pole near the outpost: rhythmic, systemic, dangerous. The kids exchanged a quick glance. [_Time was running out. _]The bombing would start any minute now. The bird would be attempted to be taken down.
The plane dropped the supplies near the outpost, and the kids went hurriedly and picked them up. “Long live the Sovereign”, the pilot spoke as he gazed at the kids from above, while they pulled the rations inside the outpost and pushed it down the food chute. “Long live the Sovereign”, the kids repeated, down on the ground below, oblivious to the pilot’s words. They watched the plane disappear almost instantaneously, cracking a lightning of its own across the sky. “Look what I found”, said the other kid said to his companion, gesturing at his closed palm. Upon opening it, the kid gave a yelp of joy. It was a beautiful object – oval, metallic, small yet heavy. It was the best souvenir they had found so far. Giddy with joy, they decided to show it to the elders, descending down the tunnel and into safety as the loud blaring outside continued, not understanding how ironical the souvenir was.
Chapter 3: The Crumbling Shackles
Higher and higher the plane flew, blazing trails across the sky, now visible and now disappeared, ghost-like or God-like, depending on who was looking. It’s pilot, the infamous Jermiaani Sisccita, felt the world pass him by, felt fear pass him by, felt death pass him by as the plane cracked bolts of lightning across the towering purple sky, dusk approaching. His eyes were visibly stoic and focused, but behind the impassive exterior lay tumult, darkness, and as much as he would hate to admit it – fear.
He closed his eyes and let his senses guide him as he raced across nothingness. At his speed anyway, there was hardly anything the eye could see. Everything was just a blur, visions of future and past blended together, painted across the purple canvas of the sky, mocking him. Besides, the plane was equipped enough to fly by itself; it could detect collisions miles ahead of time, correct trajectories accordingly; indeed, it had saved Jermiaani’s life many times before. Wrongly so, he thought to himself.
He didn’t explicitly feel a death-wish, he told himself as stories around him changed, now clouds, now recollections, now visions. And then out of nowhere, his feelings morphed and turned tangible and he saw the abyss he was spiraling into, even as the plane shot further and further above. He questioned the presence of the abyss, as he often did, probing it as he fell, trying to muster all the light he could find, as the enveloping blackness increased.
The answers came in fragments, in dreams, in words – Faithless… Traitor…Murderer… _]He pleaded to the omniscient abyss – [_No… It’s not true; but the abyss knew better, it had known him all his life. Furthermore, the abyss could hear the desperation in his thoughts, his feeble attempts to overcome his true self. [_There is no escape, _]it told him. Jermiaani nodded, knowing that it was true, the abyss always knew better. His eyes still closed, his hand reached out for the dashboard in front of him. He found the correct sequence he was looking for, and laid his fingers on it.
The plane was in free fall. Atonement, said Jermiaani to the abyss. Grant it… Take away the shackles. I’ve suffered enough… The abyss gazed at him unflinchingly. The shackles shall remain. You may very well choose the course that you want, but there is no escape. The plane was racing to the ground, burning up as it reached closer and closer to the surface… Another few minutes, thought Jermiaani.
The abyss wasn’t done with him however. It took him back in time, back to the streaming moonlight that had settled in a very dark room. Jermiaani had opened the door, not knowing what lay beyond. The red had glistened against the half-white, half-blue corpse. However, Jermiaani had found himself not looking at the corpse but at the kid, who had stood by a tree in broad daylight, tearing away bits and pieces of the wood, crafting his very own tiny boat. I am going to sail away in this, _]the kid had promised himself. [_Sail far, far away… Where I know none and none know me…
And then suddenly the abyss changed. The daylight disappeared, the crafted boat lay in the sand and the tide was coming in. And Jermiaani he could see a dim light… That of a single bulb that cast ominous shadows across a tiny room. There was a battered desk in front of him. And opposite to him, the God sat unflinchingly, almost judging him. “Why are you here?” the Sovereign had asked him. Jermiaani thought about it. “You said you had work for me”. The Sovereign didn’t respond. Jermiaani understood why. He continued – “You saved me. I was lost” He waited for a reply but the God still waited for the right answer. “I am still lost”, Jermiaani continued. “But I owe it you for breaking my shackles”
The plane was spinning now. Down and down, as fast as one could fathom. But Jermiaani saw not what was in front of him. He was still in the room, the battered desk in front of him. The Sovereign had taken his time to respond, impassive as he had said it. “What you were is immaterial” he had said. “But the work carved out for you going forward…” He had weighed his next words carefully. “You will need to steel your mind”
The room disappeared into the wisps of clouds and despite the speed and darkness, Jermiaani could see the approaching surface. As calm as a surgeon, his fingers found the right sequence. The plane thundered back to life and shot back up into the firmament with seconds to impact. He sensed the abyss shrink, until he couldn’t feel it anymore. He found a smile coming through. “I am indebted to you, My Sovereign” he spoke, partly to himself, partly to his surroundings. “You have my loyalty… and my life…”
The plane, steady now, raced towards its destination. Tomorrow would be another long day, Jermiaani thought to himself. Lots of people to supply food with, the end of the war being nowhere in sight…
Chapter 4: The Dead and the Dying
The 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…
“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…
Chapter 5: The Burnt Market
The music came in first – soft, flute-like, although the Sovereign couldn’t really place the instrument. Probably because he had heard this tune just once before – but it had been carved deep in his mind. Why, he wondered. He got no answer. His eyes closed, he decided to listen intently. One by one, the senses trickled in: the creaking of a wooden wheel, the smell of oranges, quick padded footfall, a child’s laughter, the bustle of the street, the bright sunshine he felt on his face, [_a scream… _]The Sovereign shook his head, distressed. [_No… This was a happy place. _]He continued on his journey: the musty smell of carpets, the bells of the licorice carts, someone tugging at his leg…
He opened his eyes. A child was looking intently at him, probably no older than five, her palm opened, the other hand pointing to the cart with the bells the Sovereign had just heard. Comprehending, he reached inside of his pocket and placed the coin in the child’s open palm. Giddy, she raced towards the cart, which was developing its own tiny crowd around it. The Sovereign laid his attention back on the street.
This was decidedly many years ago, much before the Sovereign had come into his true self. Much before the command of an empire had alighted on him. The Sovereign today was wide-eyed, his bare feet boiling in the sands of Carane as he stood at the entrance of The Burnt Market, watching the hustle with a keen eye, taking in everything – the overpowering aroma of spices and perfumes, the countless people that thronged the busy street, their voices and their noises, children running about. The Sovereign breathed in deep and beamed, his mind soaking in the optimism around him. This was decidedly a happy place.
Now that he understood where he was, he searched for his purpose. Why had he been brought here? He looked around, trying to find answers. The sights gave him none. He decided to move forward nevertheless, hoping that in due time, the answers would present themselves. As he moved, he inspected the carts and the stalls, while each vendor used his own flair to persuade a purchase. The Sovereign smiled, and ended up buying a souvenir – a timekeeping device, golden in nature, with umpteen dials that neither he nor the vendor could understand the significance of. Not that it stopped the vendor from inventing a story around it. But it was exquisite looking, unlike anything the Sovereign had ever seen. And so it had landed with him. He moved on – the Burnt Market was a long-winded street, perhaps the longest in Carane, and something told the Sovereign that he did not have much time.
Contrary to its name, the Burnt Market did not have a tragic past attached to it. It had been named so by its benevolent customers and fellow travelers – who jested that all the goods sold in the market were either ‘burnt’ or of poor quality. In no way did that hinder its popularity of course. It was ever one of the most crowded streets of Carane, not just for purchases, but for camaraderie – the streets had multiple inns and alehouses, where people met on a whim to discuss philosophy, politics or art and mostly ended up fighting each other.
The Sovereign stopped dead in his tracks. The thought had trigged something in his mind. He tried to fish it out – the key to him being here. It wasn’t such a discussion that had brought him here – but something of that nature – a sermon, he thought. Or a speech. The answer floated to the surface from the depths of his mind. The podium.
He glanced at the local time keep. And just in time too. It would start in a few minutes. He raced, knowing every turn of the serpent-like street and reached just as the man had climbed the pedestal.
The speech was interesting but incorrect. The man had been talking about freedom, of the nature of dynasties, of suffering, of change. Clearly, he did not know anything about any of these. But then what would one expect from the Burnt Market? It was full of false goods and false opinions. For some reason though, beyond what the Sovereign could fathom, the speech exasperated him. Before he realized, he had told the speaker to shut up, and had begun explaining to the crowd on the true nature of empires. The crowd had been amused at first, then intent, then amused again as more and more had started gathering. Everybody in the Burnt Market loved a scene and they could see that they were about to get one. The Sovereign had gone on and on – really he could have spoken about the dynamics of the realms for weeks, months even – if given a chance.
The woman had been observing the Sovereign for some time now. Her eyes were impassive and the Sovereign never saw the knife coming. He looked incredulously as he fell backward with the impact, understanding what had happened but not really understanding the why behind it. He looked at the wound – it was minor, but a stab wound just the same. Strangely, he didn’t stop talking. He continued on and on…
And then a fight ensued. The Sovereign saw several daggers go up in the air and several more hands to stop them. The crowd was fighting among themselves – some to destroy him, others to protect. He heard faint sentences cutting through the overpowering din of the bells of the licorice cart. “You killed my son”, “My children are dead because of the war”, “Your desire to make change has ruined our lives”, and even fainter sentences from the ones protecting him “Change is necessary”, “There will always be casualties in war – but the Sovereign has changed things for the better and forever”, “We believe in the Sovereign”, “Long live the Sovereign”. He was still on the ground babbling about the righteous things in life, how sometimes there needed to be a price paid for achieving lasting change, and how metamorphosis was difficult but fruitful in the end… The woman nearest to him, kicked him, shielding an incoming dagger. The din of the bells was too overpowering now. The Sovereign barely heard her. “Run”.
He got up, struggling as he did so, and watched the market wilt in the moonlight. It was several more seconds before the room slid into focus. “What’s wrong?” asked Palmeida beside him.
The Sovereign shook his head, now logical and calm, as the world expected him to be. “My dreams… The happy ones are getting interspersed with more…” He looked at her. “…tragic memories. We should have another look at the mind tomorrow. We need to re-compartmentalize. I cannot keep doing this.”
Palmeida smiled. She wasn’t worried about the Sovereign, knowing the strength and the courage that lay beneath. “So… not a God after all” she said teasingly.
The Sovereign dropped his head back and closed his eyes once more. “Not yet” came the reply.
Chapter 6: The Monastery
The full moon shone upon the Peraath valley of Carane with all its sagacity. It seemed to smile, its smile full of sadness, for it had noticed the Peraath valley for many years now, and observed its sole occupant and visitor for just as long. The green valley grass bristled in the cool night wind, alternating between blue and black but never conforming to its true color. Jermiaani Sisccita sat rooted in the landed plane, looking at the monastery in the distance, although barely visible in the sea of blue around it, marked only by the tall single flame that still burned, despite every attempt that the wind made at blowing it away.
The flame had been consistently ablaze for as long as Jermiaani remembered. It was unnatural for sure – greenish-blue in nature, it gave no heat, but charred beyond recognition anything that touched it. The animals around the valley had learnt to avoid it, they seemed to understand that it was unusual, abnormal… As for the people, they remained gloriously ignorant of the abnormal flame… and of the monastery and its sole occupant. Nobody had stepped into the valley for years now, for the valley had been deemed uninhabitable. Every attempt at colonizing the valley had died a miserable death. The people more so.
The place had been considered cursed and the people had moved on… to better yielding lands and healthier lives… and the monastery, deep in the crevices of the hills that made the valley, had never been discovered. Jermiaani had often wondered if there had indeed been science behind the fate that the colonies in the valley had suffered. There must have been, _]always came the reply. Even now, as he looked at the greenish-blue glow in the distance, he refused to believe the alternative. [_No… _]he convinced himself. [_She would never…
The thought trailed off. It was replaced with the sound of the scraping of wood, with the smell of the morning dew, with the sight of a small boat full of hope, and with the dreams of a young boy to sail away. Far, far away… _]came the voice. [_Where none know me and I know none… Then the smell of the morning dew vanished, and instead was replaced by the touch of cold, damp wood as the door had creaked open, revealing the pool within. [_A pool of red, _]Jermiaani remembered, with ruins of white and blue. The moon had settled in the darkness of the room. It had shone upon him that fateful night just as brightly as it shone upon him today.
Jermiaani didn’t remember getting out of the plane. He didn’t remember walking through the thicket, through the blue grass, the cool night wind twisting at his feet. He didn’t remember crossing the unnatural flame, passing through the crevice, beating at the colossal doors… He did remember her though, as she had opened the door. She looked just the same as he had first seen her, oblivious to the laws of time. [_Divine – _]was the right word. Others would not have been so kind in their choice of words for her. But then, others would have been wrong.
She smiled at him – her sole visitor, since as far as she could remember. Here was a person who had courage to be at her doorstep, unshackled by norms, unshackled by society’s fears, although troubled by fears of his own… She knew that was the only reason he was here – to aid his own soul, but it comforted her nevertheless – knowing that there was one… at least… who saw her for her true self.
“Back in the moonlit room?” she asked knowingly.
Jermiaani nodded, with the familiar vulnerability, he was accustomed to around her.
If there was someone who truly knew him, it was her. The Sovereign had known of the events, he had known where Jermiaani had come from, what state he had been in. The Sovereign had helped him through all of that… and for that Jermiaani would be eternally grateful. But the Sovereign just didn’t understand. The shape of his mind, his darkest moments, his biggest fears… No… if there was someone who truly understood him – then it was her. Just her.
“The war is showing no signs of stopping” he said to her. “I can’t have these visions bothering me. I need to be… functional”
“Your ‘Sovereign’ won’t approve of this method” she said to him, stepping aside to let him in.
You will need to steel your mind, the Sovereign had said.
“I need to be functional if I am to serve Carane” Jermiaani replied. “And if I am to serve him.” The colossal doors creaked to a close behind him. “And anyways – if I were him, I’d have other things to worry about”
Chapter 7: The Diplomat
Kerii Shys, the diplomat from Carane, descended down the wide metallic staircase of the Vatarian hangar, oblivious to the bellows of the countless airplanes behind her, her mind solely focused on the near impossible task assigned to her today. This war must end. She had been repeating the words over and over, internalizing the orders, even as their gravity and significance alighted on her anew with every recital, sinking in her further and further, and drowning her further into the chasm of her own fears, even as she tried to remain afloat.
Unbidden and unforeseen, a train of thoughts broke into her mind. This is it, _]the Sovereign had continued, as they had discussed her orders a few hours earlier. [_The endgame. Our final few moves… That will decide whether we win the war… _]He had paused. [_Or die… _] Kerii had comprehended then, and she had sat stoically throughout the discussion, listening with rapt attention, as the Sovereign had laid out the strategy for winning the war against the Vatarian Empire. [_The talks must go exactly as planned…And then he had concluded.[_ It rests on you_].
Kerii had nodded, stoically again, her face masking both her joy and her fears. As she had turned to leave, he had made a last comment. [_I hope you understand the danger associated with this… _]Keri had nodded again. Of course she did. The Sovereign had considered her for a long moment, and then added – [_Jermiaani will go with you. _]Keri had felt incredulous, ludicrous even, and had turned behind to consider the Sovereign’s pet dog as he stood by the door. However, it hadn’t been up for discussion.
She looked at him now as she descended the wide metallic staircase of the Vatarian Hangar. She saw a lowly scum, unsuited for such an enterprise. He looked back at her, and if she could read thoughts – she would have seen the despise from this “dog”, who felt she had abused her aristocracy and reached the level of a diplomat through nothing short of nepotism. The Sovereign would have smiled at both these accusations – they were incorrect of course, but very insightful.
Kerii had been too preoccupied to understand the dog’s thoughts, however, and she gave him a curt “Wait here”, as she searched for the conduct who would take her to the Vatarian emperor. She found the convoy of vehicles at the south side. “The Emperor awaits” said the attendant, as she opened the car door. It rests on you.
“You have been very busy, my dear lord” said Kerii to Emperor Gixa, as they sat in a military tower overlooking the immense Sila river, the diplomatic negotiations already cratered. The masks of diplomacy and of hypocrisy, as Jermiaani would have put it, had dropped more and more these past weeks, and the negotiations had turn tumultuous turns, and now had reached a state where the fangs lay bare. The peril of the current situation made him very nervous. Peace seemed impossible now. Some would have attributed the failure of peace to Kerii. She had been too forthright in the negotiations right from their start, not reading the emperor’s asks, failing to achieve common ground, unyielding and immovable, almost non-diplomatic. Some would have said that the aristocracy had shown its true colours, and that merit could nowhere be found in this diplomat, and that she had botched up perfectly possible solutions, and was single-handedly responsible for the rest of the deaths the war would bring.
Kerii, well aware of all of this, remained unfazed as she continued to challenge the emperor. It rests on you. “You have been busy” she said again. “You have been deliberately trying to push the borders of your own empire by impinging on ours. You turned Jankaha into a battlefield, driving the people from their homes, clearing out their land and establishing camps of your own. You have been sending spies into Carane, trying to infiltrate our intelligence. And lastly, you have made three assassination attempts at our Sovereign. Now…” she said, moving further upright, asserting her dominance over the situation “you should be surprised that we are giving any peace terms at all. We could come in and destroy you at any minute – Carane has both the ordnance and the coffers to pull it off. Bend the knee my lord, and our Sovereign will still let you live. You will get to keep a portion of the Vatarian empire, and the rest of it will be signed over to the government of Carane for safekeeping. These are our final terms.”
The next thirty seconds would remain engraved in Kerii’s mind for many years to come, and she would look back on this time for strength, during times just as dark. The gun roared and the flash caught her off-guard, sending her into a shock, even though she had been expecting the consequence. She then felt the difference between understanding death as concept and knowing it as reality, even as the bullet moved towards her, and the emperor’s face broke a smile, the madness of power visible on his face.
It faded away soon enough, and the emperor looked upon dazed at the bullet that had been stopped in mid-air. The gun fell from his hand. Jermiaani’s arm was raised, a device upon his palm, emitting a blue aura and a whirring sound. “Carsanion tech” Kerii called out to the stunned emperor, regaining her own composure, the bullet still suspended in mid-air. She tried hard not to break into a smile. It rests on you… The talks must go exactly as planned… If Carane gets a hold of the Vatarian Empire, we are sure to avoid war for another fifty years at least. Possibly more. We have a chance at everlasting peace. But we are no invaders. We will have to show the world that the emperor left us with no choice. The negotiations must fail…
And what better way to fail the negotiations than to shoot at the diplomat of the country offering peace, thought Kerii. She had provoked him, prodded him for weeks now and she could see her masterpiece unravel in the spinning bullet that waited patiently as the truth of the matter dawned on the emperor. He had underestimated her every step of the way. She was too young a diplomat and had seemed like a child in her negotiations, and he had investigated her background – she had struck him a high-born with no merit, gotten in purely by name. He could now see that it was the desired effect. The Sovereign had picked the right person for the job.
Kerii rose, the emperor still dazed. “You will be given 48 hours to comply with our terms. Post that, the Carsanion force will breach the Vatarian empire and you will be taken into custody. You choose.” She nodded at Jermiaani, a silent nod of thanks. He acknowledged, and escorted her out, flicking his wrist as he left. The bullet dropped to the wooden floor, and stayed there motionless, a sign of coming times.
Chapter 8: Ambition
The 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.
Chapter 9: Ashes
For a split second, Vyanaar could only hear his own footsteps, as he raced towards the abandoned truck, and slid behind it, waiting and listening. The sound of the explosion renewed his faith that his senses were still up. He turned to see the impact of the blast. Two trucks had overturned. Cars around had slid far away from their initial mark, their windows shattered with the blow, and the glass lay melting on the surface. Vyanaar’s radio buzzed to life. “Sovereign – respond. What’s the status?” Kerii asked.
“The barricade is clear. I repeat the barricade is clear. Sending the team now” He gestured towards the five people scattered across the desolate street, who now moved rapidly towards the explosion. The Sovereign joined them, shifting his glances as rapidly as he could, from the street to the windows overhead to the terraces, to the abandoned vehicles and back to the street again. He could hear distant gunfire and felt the tremors when tanks and bombs went off, but he could gauge that they were still far off. His team was in the clear. At least for now.
Vyanaar reached for his helmet and spoke into the radio. “Jermiaani – what’s the status of the Bravo team. I can hear tanks going off in the distance.” He tried to spot people from the team from amid the cracks in the buildings that expanded his view to many streets further. All he saw was the Arvallian force moving, their guns firing at people unknown, the buildings and monuments shattered. At least the ruins gave enough protection, thought the Sovereign. It was easier to use the debris for stealth.
“We are behind you on the opposite flank” came back Jermiaani’s voice, breaking static every few seconds. “I am on the roof, sniping my way through. I can see you.” The Sovereign turned around to catch sight but couldn’t trace the voice. “No point in turning. I am too high up. You won’t see me. Continue on.” The Sovereign had noticed something though, in the far off distance. He barked in the radio “Get off the roofs. All of you. I see a drone fleet coming in from where I stand.”
“Kerii -” he thundered in the radio. “You’re in the control center for a reason. You are supposed to keep surveilling the area for this.” There was silence for too long before the reply came back. “I am sorry. It’s a blind spot. They are still far away for surveillance radius to detect them. You happened to see blips. I have turned the equipment now to get a better understanding of the force. I see 4 jets. Mostly – no pilots.”
“I need a better answer than that” said the Sovereign. “No pilots” came the reply after 10 seconds. “Confirmed”. The Sovereign nodded – “Okay. Great. Jermiaani – engage the people in your team on that. I need those drones down before they are within vicinity of the damage.” “On it” replied Jermiaani. The Sovereign nodded to his own team and they continued to proceed forward. Today would be a pivotal day in the rebellion. If all proceeded as expected, we could transform from rebels to heroes.
The Sovereign heard a soft whirring and buzzing as the wind whistled by. It was enough for him to understand. “Take cover – incoming gunfire” he shouted to his team. The team hid behind battered walls and used the abandoned cars as embankments, shooting and talking at once, trying to get a sense of the enemy guns and their locations. The Sovereign changed his primary and equipped it with the lens in his backpack. He saw two people aiming behind a dirt embankment. He shot one through the head as he was aiming. The other ducked too soon.
Not that it mattered. The gunfire was streaming in from at least three directions now. He looked at his team as they took down people one after the other, even as the numbers kept increasing. War was patriotism for them, he thought blankly, even as he took aim and shot the second target through the neck. Anything for the right cause.
That was good. He truly needed patriots now. The people of Carane were divided into factions. More bullets whizzed by. He killed the last one on the roof in front of him. In a blur, he told his team to move in the direction that had been cleared out. There were those that felt that the rebels were a scourge, fighting for glory and power. But there were those that understood the reality of the situation. That the empire of Carane had been in ruins for many years before the war in the rebellion had begun, destroyed by the Arvallians. Sovereign’s forces were only trying to bring justice back to the society – justice in it’s true form, not just a semblance.
It didn’t matter. “Vyanaar-” the radio came back to life. “We took the jets down but I see at least 3 more coming your way from the far side. We won’t be able to get to you in time.” The Sovereign looked up and tried to hear the planes. He couldn’t – that meant they still had time. “Thanks Jermiaani” he replied. “We will keep an eye out”
The goal for the day was not far off. The building called The Archive, lay a few streets away. If only we could reach the vaults… “No – you don’t understand” Jermiaani replied from the other end. “These aren’t normal drones-”
Jermiaani needn’t have to complete his thought even though the line gave out to static. The Sovereign felt the tremors soon enough, increasing in magnitude with every second. The drones were bombing all along the way, they had probably cleared out the block of the Arvallian’s own forces. He nodded to the team. “Abort.” He had a pit in his stomach –[_ Freedom would have to wait._]
The drones surveyed the debacle after the bombings had stopped. Their scanners hit the ruins for biometric signatures; indeed, the Arvallian forces had destroyed a large part of their own city to achieve their goal. They had received word that the Sovereign himself had been fighting in this area. If that were true, then the ruins from the bombings were a low price. The rebellion would end without the Sovereign. But it was all in vain – for the drones couldn’t find the bodies in the ashes. Hundreds of miles below, the Sovereign and his team moved through the intricate series of underground tunnels, known only to the Carsanions, stretching from one end of Carane to the other, hoping that the maze would remain undiscovered…, and praying for the day when they would be able to traverse above ground, their head held high…
Author’s Note: This post ‘Ashes’ marks the end of the ‘part 1’ series of 9 chapters, if you will, of the Empire of Carane. I’ve tried to give you a glimpse of the world that I have created for my novel “The Sovereign’s Ambition” and the various characters in it. I’ve traversed between past, present and future from the novel’s timeline and tried to paint a picture of the themes, places, conflicts and writing style that you can expect from the book. The goal was to create short, readable posts – than just put up actual chapters from the book. It’s great to have a community here – thanks to all who have appreciated the posts so far… See you all in season 2…
About the book
The chapter ‘Ashes’ marks the end of the ‘Part 1’ of the Empire of Carane called ‘The Vatarian War’. Hope you have enjoyed it. Although you have read this edition as a ‘book’, The Empire of Carane is first and foremost a ‘blog’. Created by author Vaibhav Thombre, the blog is a window for the readers into his upcoming political thriller novel “The Sovereign’s Ambition” which is the first novel of his trilogy.
The Empire of Carane’s plot is intertwined with the actual novel trilogy and the parts written on the blog complement the events in the novels. Through the blog, the author has traversed between past, present and future from the novels’ timelines and tried to paint a picture of the themes, places, conflicts and writing style that you can expect from the books of the trilogy.
You can read new chapters on the blog as they come in or you can read the parts as ‘books’ like this one as and when they are available for download.
You can visit the blog here:
Use the ‘menu’ available on the site to read the chapters in a sequence.
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Last but not the least, after this page is an additional bonus chapter, the first one from Part II of the blog. Give it a read to get a feel of what’s coming in Part II.
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Part II Chapter One: Grief
[_*D*eath, by itself, is meaningless… _]The long-lost words emerged from the black abyss, growing strength to strength, fighting a flood of countless other thoughts, memories and emotions that surged within, strangely captivating the Sovereign’s wrecked mind, even as he sat absently on his knees, crushed and defeated, clutching the pale, cold and lifeless body that lay in front of him, hoping that his presence would breathe some life back into it, hoping that he indeed had some of the godliness that the Carsanions attributed so often to him.
The body remained cold however. Waves of thoughts crashed on the shore of the Sovereign’s mind, now disbelief, now shock, now anguish, now rage – each subsiding to give way to the other, each carrying with it numerous flashes of reminiscences, which now lay strewn on the desolate shore, waiting to be discarded. Faint murmurs brought the Sovereign back from his mind and shackled him to the reality that lay before him. He was vaguely aware that he was not alone, although his mind was elsewhere – linking the past occurrences with the present reality. Death by itself is meaningless… The words came again and then vanished, fading away as the murmurs approached nearer. Voices around the Sovereign, both known and unknown, expressed their sympathies, and he nodded in acknowledgement, each time detecting a shared pattern – the whiff of fear and uncertainty in the words; a new addition to the blatant hollowness that the Sovereign had grown so accustomed to hearing. Not that it was unexpected – the Sovereign understood where the fear stemmed from; it was a fear of their own safety – in an empire where the death loomed so high even above the people with the most power. It was a selfish fear, Sovereign knew, but he nodded silently to their sympathies, unmoved, processing every person’s manner and filing it away for later use.
Outwardly stoic and pondering, he was back on the shore now, looking among the reminiscences that lay scattered, searching desperately for the key that would release his shackles. The one memory, which had the answer to his great pain, still lay forgotten somewhere in the crevices of his mind. It couldn’t be seen on the shore, but then again, he had miles to travel to cover its expanse. He didn’t have much time, he knew. He had to be functional once again – and the grief was weighing him down, killing him slowly yet steadily. The murderers were currently formulating the next plan of assail, he was quite sure of that; he had to have his wits about him if he had any hope of foiling them.
Death by itself is meaningless… he recited the key to himself, as he sat on the shore, looking beyond the setting sun, even as the waves of rage and misery continued to lash at him. His breathing soon became irregular, and he started shuddering, the weight of the circumstances falling down on him, crushing all his will and determination. Strangely however, he wouldn’t give up. The setting sun then started to change course, rising higher and higher, until it was morning again. The shore vanished and so did the waves, replaced by the encampment where death was so familiar. The Sovereign was walking through the rocks and the artillery now, sidestepping the bodies that he saw – the product of war, the souls that the rebellion had claimed. “So many deaths…” a voice said beside him. He turned to see Jermiaani inspecting the mutilation. The Sovereign had nodded to him, distressed at the outcome that lay in front of him. He had started down the path for justice, brave and knowledgeable of the price, but the massacre was proving to him that he had much to learn. For knowing and living were two different things – and while he had known, only now was he getting to live death.
The encampment then vanished, replaced by the long halls of the Tower of Dawn. And then the Sovereign heard the voice, oddly like his own self, but stronger and surer. “Death by itself is meaningless. Always look upon it in the context of greater things, disassociated from every emotion. Always question “why”, for it is the reason that defines death, that unveils its true nature. And once the cause is understood – all that remains is to stand up to that cause, with every piece of strength left, until it yields to you; until you prove to it that you are beyond the miseries of life. Logic trumps all. Dissociate every emotion from logic – and you will see life for what it is. And then – you will have risen.”
The Tower of Dawn faded away, as another voice was heard. “My Sovereign?” Vyanaar was back now, back in the reality, back to the present, but unconstrained and unshackled. He turned to see Jermiaani beside him, his voice full of pain, clearly still grieving over the terrible loss. The Sovereign looked at the body that lay in front of him, the countless memories and emotions still swirling inside but not drowning him anymore. “It is a matter of time, Jermiaani. We will all get over this. But now – we must focus. The enemy shall strike again, and soon enough. We need to be ready. We need to think the scenarios through. The conflict has only just begun.”
Jermiaani looked at his Sovereign. He saw the colossal strength, unfazed and unperturbed even under such trying circumstances. He couldn’t understand how such strength could be possible. He bent his head low. “Orders”