Hello, everyone! I am currently working on a new story concept which has elements of both high-fantasy and science-fiction called Taryan: Raise the Empire.
Here's a preview of what's to come; constructive criticism appreciated, as always...
His first memory of the whole thing, the most potent recollection of all, was stumbling onto his mother’s laboratory when he was ten.
He and his older brother Schendahl were kicking a ball around as they ran through one of the many hallways of their father’s palace, playing a game of keep-away with their little brother Grendlin. Their older sister Audene came tearing after them.
“Wait till I get my hands on all of you!” she yelled at them from the entrance of the hallway. “If Mother finds out you’re playing indoors…”
“Aw, but it’s raining outside!” Schendahl shouted back in reply.
Artavian snickered when he heard his sister’s almost inarticulate roar of rage. Aei [older sister] Audene could be such a pill sometimes! She was no fun at all; she was even worse now because she would be starting at the Amadera in the Souraingite capital of Kanna come fall.
“I’ll be glad when Aei leaves,” he declared to his brothers.
“Who wouldn’t be?” Schendhal snorted derisively.
“Where’s she going?” Grendlin piped up.
“School,” Artavian replied, kicking the ball just out of the younger boy’s reach
“And her school’s going to be really far away,” Schendahl added. He crowed happily when Artavian kicked the ball over to him. “Here goes…!”
He kicked the ball hard, causing it to bounce from wall to wall. Artavian and Grendlin chased after it before it rolled down the flight of stairs at the end of the hall. To their dismay, the ball tumbled down the steps.
“I’ll get it!” Artavian went scrambling down the steps.
“Artie!” Schendahl called after him, his voice agitated. “Wait! Don’t…”
When he reached the floor below, Artavian suddenly felt a deep sense of foreboding grip his heart. For a moment, he could not seem to move. The corridor was pretty much the same as the one above it, but he remembered too late that his parents had forbidden them to enter this part of the palace.
The corridor beyond was lined with doors on both sides, just as the one upstairs. However, the doors on the ground floor of the palace were wooden ones with brass latches that shone like gold because they were so well-polished. The ones here in the basement seemed to be all made of solid steel. At the same time, the hallways of the upper regions of the palace were well-lit and exuded warmth and a pleasant welcome to all who walked in them. This corridor was rather dimly lit and there was a most unusual chill emanating from the walls.
Artavian shivered nervously as he made his way to where the ball rolled. For all his nervousness, however, he was more curious than frightened. He wondered why his parents did not want them to come into this part of the palace. Apart from the intimidating doors and the darker lighting, there did not seem to be any difference between this corridor and anywhere else.
The ball had rolled into the middle of the corridor, just outside a door that was slightly ajar. When Artavian came to retrieve the toy, he overheard voices coming out of the open room. He hesitated for a moment; then his curiosity got the better of him.
“Are you sure that was what the High Oracle said?” a man’s voice demanded. Artavian drew back a little, eyes widening worriedly. That was his father’s voice!
“Yes, your Grace,” another man’s voice replied. Artavian could not identify this one, but he presumed it was the emissary from Klos who arrived earlier that day. He heard the rustle of paper; perhaps he was passing a package over to the Grand Duke. “The High Priest sent a copy of the recording to Loch Nendath. His Grace ordered copies made and sent to you and the other Oligarchs.”
“Here,” a woman’s voice chimed in; Artavian knew it was his mother. “Let’s play that back.”
He could hear clicking sounds as something was slid into a slot. The boy felt the hair on the backs of his neck and arms rising when he heard another woman’s voice speak. It was a horrible voice: aged, cracking, sounding almost as if the speaker lay in her grave. It chanted a series of verses over and over again:
Two years before nine millennia:
Sourainge will be ruled:
Not by a son, but a daughter,
Neither mage nor warrior
But both in one body.
Two years before nine millennia:
Where there are eight
There will be one,
One land united –
United against the darkness.
A prince among princes
Will rise to the fore,
A princess of noble blood
Will fall to the shadows.
One voice will call,
One hand shall lead,
One soul, one heart
One empire rising.
The adults in the room were all silent for a few moments after the last words faded into silence. Then:
“Fadenth Sourainge has no sons to take his place when the time comes,” he heard his father say quietly. “His wife suffered four miscarriages before she finally gave birth – and that child was a girl.”
“That prophecy has been made time and again for nearly four thousand years, your Grace,” the emissary informed him. “Only in the past, no one seemed to take it seriously.” There was a pause. “Until now, of course, that the heir apparent to the Duchy of Sourainge is female rather than male.”
Artavian gasped at that. He quickly covered his mouth; luckily, no one seemed to have heard him. He met the girl in question, the only child of the Souraingite Grand Duke. She was a quiet sort of girl and Artavian had dismissed her outright as one of those milksop princesses like his sister and her friends. He played a trick on her involving an open door and a bucket of water; he did not expect her to retaliate. It was, as he recollected rather glumly, not one of the smartest things he’d ever done as she nearly beat him to a pulp when she caught up with him. To be quite frank about it, she had heavier hands than most boys their age and it took a whole week for the bruises to fade.
His curiosity now piqued, the boy put the ball down by the door and tiptoed into the room. Apparently, it was not just a room but a suite of several. On silent feet, he slipped through the anteroom and into a second chamber. This one was really cold, almost like the refrigerated room up in the palace kitchen where meat, fish, and those frozen desserts the ducal family was so fond of were stored. It was also very dark and the only light came in the form of small colored pinpoints, like those on a control console for a machine.
As he inched through the room, he noticed that the walls felt different. It was as if the walls were made of steel. Not only that, it seemed like the walls were segmented: rectangular blocks spaced about a foot from each other. Muttering slightly under breath, he took a small multi-knife from his pocket and pulled out the miniature flashlight to see better.
He wished he hadn’t when he saw that what his hands were passing over weren’t walls but a line of what appeared to be steel tanks with digital displays and clear glass windows in front. What was shown in the displays only made Artavian more uncomfortable.
There were names and dates glowing in the panels. Some names were unnervingly familiar: they were the names of princes, the sons of his father’s fellow oligarchs. Some were familiar because they were the names of the sons of a number of noble Haikahnese houses.
Kandren… Shilmaris… Anverdis…
Artavian stopped before one of the tanks when he saw the name Martindale flashed in the front panel. He frowned at this and drew in for a closer look.
Not Jartram du Martindale? he thought. Jartram was the eldest son, the heir apparent of the Grand Duke of Faimeh. Artavian knew him because he would escort his sister at diplomatic functions. Audene was sweet on him and Jar made no secret of the fact that he felt the same way. It was rather sickening the way they behaved when they were together.
Artavian stared in disbelief at the name in the panel: Jartram Hathris so Meade du Martindale, Marquis of Saori.
“What’s this?” Artavian muttered, standing on tiptoe to peer through the glass panel on the tank.
What he saw made him scream in genuine horror.
“Shh…” Tenderly, Eowhin de Haikahn tried to comfort the gibbering child on her lap. The intensity of their discussion on the prophecy of the Klossian High Oracle was cut short by a high-pitched scream just outside her main laboratory.
The first thing she saw as soon as her husband threw back the door was their son Artavian sprawled on the floor, staring in horror at the hypermaturation tank that held Jartram du Martindale. Eowhin quickly scooped the sobbing boy in her arms and tried to soothe him.
“I’m sorry!” he wailed. “I didn’t… I wasn’t… I didn’t mean to come here! We just dropped our ball…”
Grayfaith von Haikahn, normally a stern father to his children, was suddenly gentle and crouched down so that he was eye-level with Artavian.
“Now you know why Mother and I forbade you to come here,” he said in a soft voice.
“What is this place, Father?” Artavian asked in a wobbly voice. “Is Jar dead?”
“No, Artie, not dead,” Grayfaith assured the child. “None of the boys in the tanks are dead.”
“They’re asleep,” Eowhin added. “Not the sort of sleep you do every night, though. This is different – much different, as a matter of fact.”
“Is he sick?”
Eowhin turned to Grayfaith, a question in her eyes. The latter looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged.
“If he’s old enough to ask the questions, then he’s probably old enough to hear the answers,” was all he would say on the matter. He turned to the emissary with a grin. “My good Xortre, would you be so kind as to pass by the kitchen? I think our young lad here needs a spot of hot chocolate or almond milk.”
The emissary bowed and smiled kindly at the still-trembling child. “Of course, your Grace,” he said. He bowed again and left the room.
“This is a Matrix’s lab, son,” Grayfaith explained, taking Artavian from his mother. He carried the boy into the room just beyond where the tanks were. All sorts of medical monitors were installed in the room, glass-fronted cabinets held scalpels and other implements or jars filled with various medications or chemical compounds.
“A Matrix is a sort of doctor?” Artavian asked.
“Sort of,” Eowhin chimed in agreement. “We’re doctors and teachers at the same time. We make sure that young princes will grow up strong, healthy, and wise enough to lead their people when the time comes.”
His small eyes widening in wonder, Artavian looked up at his father. “Did you sleep like them, Father?”
Grayfaith nodded. “I did,” he replied. “And so will Schendahl when he turns sixteen and Bander of Sullah, as well.”
“Will I need to sleep like them?”
Grayfaith turned worriedly to Eowhin. “I… I do not know, as yet, son,” he admitted truthfully. “To go into hypermaturation means you’re going to be a Grand Duke or you’ll be married to a Grand Duchess when you’re all grown up.”
“Do girls have to sleep like them, too?”
Eowhin shook her head. “The process for girls is different,” she said.
“But what about Maedris La Sourainge?” Artavian wondered. “She doesn’t have any big brothers. Is she going to be Grand Duchess someday?”
Grayfaith looked somber at that point and looked over to his wife. “We aren’t sure about that now,” he admitted. “We always thought she would be Grand Duchess, but now it seems like things are going to be different.”
“She’s going to have a little brother?”
Eowhin shook her head, her lips pursed into a thin line. She regarded her son intently. “How much of what we were talking about did you hear?” she asked him.
“Um…” Artavian screwed his little face up as he tried to recollect what had been said. “You and Father and the man who was here were talking about something from Klos. Then, there was the voice of a really old lady.” He looked up at his father, his face pale. “Who was she, Father? Her voice was really creepy!”
“That was the High Oracle of Klos,” Eowhin replied. “Lysuva ni Therama, Maedris’s grandmother.”
“What’s an Oracle, Mother?”
“Someone who can see the future, dear.” Eowhin sighed worriedly and absently began putting some of her instruments back into place. “What she said is one of a series of verses called the Oracle of the Rising Empire.”
Grayfaith settled Artavian down on a nearby chair and sat down in the one across from it. “Many, many years ago,” he began, “the fortune tellers of Klos said that the eight provinces of Taryan would be united under a single ruler.
“They said that an oligarch’s daughter would be led astray by enemies, people who would fill her head with thoughts of wealth and power. This princess would try to conquer Taryan and enslave the people.
“However, the Oracle also speaks of a second princess, the first girl to become heir apparent. This one would rise to lead us all against the princess of shadows and the oligarchs will promise her their loyalty.”
Artavian cocked his head to one side curiously. “What’ll happen if the princess doesn’t beat the evil one?” he asked.
Grayfaith regarded the child grimly. “Then all Taryan will fall into the darkness.”
Two years later…
“Artie? Artie, where are you?”
“I’m in the lab, Gren.”
Grendlin von Haikahn peeked around the door. Inside, his older brother was hunched over a table and poring over his notes. There was a chemist’s set-up within his reach; a beaker filled with a clear liquid was bubbling over a burner.
“What are you doing?” the younger boy asked.
“Studying,” Artavian replied, looking up from his notes.
Grendlin pulled up a chair and sat down, regarding his brother with a dismal pout. “You’re no fun anymore,” he complained sulkily. “Kui (older brother) Schend’s always with Father, Aei is at school, and all you do is hang around Mother’s lab downstairs.”
“Kui needs to be with Father because Father’s teaching him how to be a Grand Duke,” Artavian explained, going back to his notes.
“But I haven’t anyone to play with!”
Artavian looked up and peered at his brother through his glasses. “Why don’t you help me out down here?” he suggested.
The little boy brightened up and leaned over to see what his brother was working on. “You’re learning how to turn someone into a Homo mirabilis!” he marveled breathlessly. “Wicked cool!” He pointed to the stuff in the beaker. “Is that viar?”
Artavian nodded. “Yup, it’s what cushions a guy inside the tank for the whole five years he spends in hypermaturation,” he explained as he turned off the burner.
“You’re learning how to make it?”
“Yup.” He reached for a small dish and poured a measure of the liquid into it.
“It looks kinda runny,” Grendlin noted.
“Yes, but…” Artavian held the dish to him. “Try poking it.”
The boy hesitated for a moment, then tapped at the substance with his finger. To his wonder, it flowed about the dish like an ordinary liquid, but it went solid almost as soon as he touched it. He gasped, obviously impressed by this.
Before he could say anything, however, a girl about Artavian’s age came into the room without so much as knocking. Artavian looked up and raised an eyebrow at her.
“Shouldn’t you be upstairs with the Grand Dukes?” he demanded without preamble.
“Your father called for a recess,” the girl replied, coming to stand beside him. “How are the Matrix lessons going?”
“Pretty well, I guess.”
“Hullo, Aei Maedris.” Grendlin got up and went to hug the newcomer who playfully ruffled his hair.
“Hullo, Gren. What are you doing here? It’s kinda boring; wouldn’t you like to go play with Ninaris upstairs?” Ninaris was the heir apparent to the province of Dahm where her mother was Grand Duchess. She was a pretty little girl the same age as Grendlin and the two had been friends from the cradle.
Grendlin smiled eagerly. “Nari’s upstairs?” he exclaimed, bolting out of the room.
“Practically bonded to each other, aren’t they?” Maedris remarked when the boy had gone.
“Sort of,” Artavian agreed. He narrowed his already small eyes at Maedris. “What are you doing here, really?”
“I came to see you,” she replied, sitting in the chair Grendlin vacated. She playfully stuck her tongue out at him. “Seeing how you’ve been so antisocial of late, I decided to come visit.”
Artavian scowled, but she merely laughed at him. They were too much alike: the same age, mostly the same interests, and they shared a peculiar sort of precociousness and a rather adult manner of speaking. Honestly, Artavian couldn’t help but feel as if Maedris La Sourainge already had him cornered.
“Much as I appreciate your visit, I suggest you go on back up,” he advised her coldly.
Maedris pouted, but her eyes glittered mirthfully. “I suppose,” she drawled, “that you’ll be a crusty old bachelor of a genetic engineer.” She threw him a pleading look. “Come up and play, Artie.”
“I can’t!” he protested, gesturing towards his workplace. “There’s too much for me to do!”
“What’s so important that you can’t leave it alone for a few minutes?” she demanded, grabbing his notes. He would have snatched them away, but she was quick to swat him off. As she read them, her eyes widened. She looked up, a grave look on her face. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“It’s a hypothesis, Maedris,” Artavian told her.
“But you’re trying to make my decision for me!” she all but screamed at him, flinging the notes at him violently. Angrily, she stomped out of the room.
Artavian stared after her, flustered by her tirade but did not dare move. A few minutes later, his mother came in and demanded answers.
“Maedris went down here to say hello and she went back upstairs in tears,” she informed her son severely. “What did you do?”
Mutely, Artavian handed her the notes that so horrified Maedris. Eowhin sank into a chair and read through them carefully.
“A Homo mirabilis who spends a longer time in viar?” she exclaimed, obviously intrigued.
“Well, he spends two years in viar,” Artavian explained. “Then he spends a year on the outside, another two years in the soup, one more year out, and just two more years in the tank. He’s then able to interact more, to learn more, and his body gets accustomed to its enhancements much quicker, allowing him to maximize his abilities.”
Eowhin nodded slowly. “This is all well and good,” she said in a quiet voice. “But what noble family will be willing enough… For that matter, what boy would be willing enough to undergo such a revolutionary process?” When she looked up, she went very pale when she saw the grim look on her son’s face. “Oh, no… No, Artie…”
Artavian, however, nodded. “If the prophecy is true,” he said, “then Maedris needs someone strong and capable enough to fight and rule by her side. She doesn’t need some ordinary fellow who’ll just do as he’s told.”
“As a Matrix, I admire you for your initiative,” his mother told him. “But, as your mother, I worry as to how things are going to be. Besides, what if the prophecy isn’t true?”
Artavian smiled at her. “Then Maedris marries someone who can easily put her in her place,” was all he said regarding the matter.