Friday, July 25, 2008

"The Elephant Crusade" -- Act IV


"The Elephant Crusade"
(c) 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


ACT IV: Balori Quests for the Stars

A TREE GROWS FIRST ITS ROOTS: Wherein Balori Shongoyo Visits Taliesin; Young Cordelia Plots Against the Weasel King; Aniabas Gambles in Desperation to Usurp Raiju Yu; Akadia Visits the Eternal Empress and Bears Witness to the Results of the Elephant Crusade



Long had Aileas been quiet, trapped within the shaft of the Spear of Sorrows. It was as though she slept, resting for the first time since her death and turn into a Bean Nighe. Xiao-tep had planted her into the ground at the base of Taliesin, far from the open fields, intent on never using her again. Aelis was pleased by this. Each new day brought to her the warmth of the sun and a smile. Indeed, so long had she sat, the spear's four eternally sharp blades pointed skyward, that small vines began to grow where the shaft entered the ground. She was as a tree in a forest with no sorrows nor cares. She lived for the sun and nothing more. Taliesin was paradise.

Xiao-tep had continued to work the fields and gardens of Taliesin. He made for himself a sickle with which to harvest and trim using flint from the mountain and a broken branch from a cherry willow. His fins would shift into arms with hands as he grasped the sickle. he arms had grown strong with the daily work. Most of all, his face had grown a happy, content smile. He came to love Taliesin as he had never known love before. Taliesin was paradise.

Each night he would pack fruits and roots into a small basket he had woven from dried leaves of elephant grass that grew on the base of the mountain. He would then take the basket of foods to the peak of Taliesin and share a meal with his friends Aglina the Dove and Zingtai the Butterfly. Every night they would talk lightly and enjoy each others' company, but Xiao-tep knew, could sense the despair in Zingtai. Each night he would watch the fallen butterfly, her wing wounded and torn with a hole where the missing jewel had been, as she stole a peak at Kalavata flying overhead. Though she had not mentioned matters for a long time, he knew she desired returning to the nighttime sky. But her broken wing kept her grounded. So she quietly despaired and ate and talked with her friends.

Then one day, while working the fields late into the day, Xiao-tep came across Oti the Firefly who had flown to Taliesin looking for a mate who had playfully lead him on a chase.

Xiao-tep gazed in amazement at Oti's ability to spark light like fire. "How can you do this?" he asked. "Know you the ways of mysticism?"

Oti chuckled, "Oh, no, no, no. It is a natural thing. All us fireflies can light up the night." Then Oti added with some small embarrassment, "We do it to attract mates."

Xiao-tep laughed at this. "Well, it is a beautiful thing. It reminds me of the stars. I can only imagine what many more of your kind would be like."

"If you allow my friends to live here," said Oti, "we would be most happy to light up the night for you."

Xiao-tep thought this would be a wonderful present for his friends on Taliesin. He invited Oti to bring more friends to Taliesin and soon the night was lit up like the nighttime heavens used to be under Zingtai's wings.

Xiao-tep flew to the side of Zingtai and Aglina and pointed out the massive fields below sparkling with the firefly light. "It's as the stars!" he claiemd.

Aglina glowered at Xiao-tep, ,angry he might offend Zingtai. She drew the butterfly closer under her wing. But Zingtai, though she did feel some sadness in seeing the lights below, found also beauty and wonder in them. She thought Xiao-tep had done a wonderful thing to bring such beauty to Taliesin and told him so.

"I can only hope seeing them does not hurt you," Xiao-tep said softly.

Zingtai admitted they did. "But that is no fault of yours. It is the fault of the one who stole my jewel."

Their friendship affirmed, Xiao-tep carried on with his work each day and picnicked with Aglina and Zingtai each night as they watched the field of sparkling bugs below.

This was how Balori Shongoyo, the Towering Elephant, found Taliesin when he came to it.



Balori came at dusk, riding atop his cloud and following rumors about Zingtai. He had heard the tale of how she fell. He then heard Taliesin was the closest to the Heavens than any other place in all the world. He came and he saw the evening slowly light with the bugs' twinkling.

"I've found them!" he cried out, landing in a well-kept field amidst all the bugs. "I've found the stars!"

His heart welled with hope as he gazed at the beauty around him.

"I'm afraid you've not found the stars," said Xiao-tep. He had seen Balori come to Taliesin and approached cautiously and without notice as the elephant was busy staring at the bugs. Xiao-tep, seeing the immense size of Balori, grew to his height.

Balori backed away, quickly arming himself.

Xiao-tep raised a hand to stay Balori's attack, putting the sickle down on the ground next to him. "I am not your enemy. I am the caretaker here. I am Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of One Hundred Thousand Sorrows and Beauty, son of Hapi the River God and Lei-zi the Goddess of Thunder. Welcome to Taliesin." Xiao-tep bowed deeply in a sign of respect.

Seeing Xiao-tep meant not to attack, Balori put his weapons away in a belt he had obtained as a gift from an old woman asking him to return the stars to the sky for her grandchildren. The belt was blue silk and glowed with a soft sheen and edged with golden puffs that dangled gracefully against his skin. He then snorted the cloud into his trunk, saying, "I am Balori Shongoyo of the Elephants of Ife." Balori did not return Xiao-tep's bow with one of his own, instead flapping his ears in nervous fidgets.

Xiao-tep felt the slight, but said nothing of it.

Balori eyed Xiao-tep and thought of Fei Li Mi, the loyal servant to the Eternal Empress. Balori asked, "I've known a fish like you once before. A brown catfish. Have you known this fish?"

Xiao-tep was shocked to hear of another fish like him. Awe filled his heart. "I know of none other than myself," confessed Xiao-tep. "Is he a son of Hapi?"

Balori shook his head, his big ears swaying as he did so. "I know little of him except he serves the woman I serve. She has sent me on a quest. I've come looking for the stars."

"There are no stars here," said Xiao-tep.

Balori was uncertain about this fish before him now, saying, "But what are these?" His swept a hand over the field to indicate the bugs.

"They are fireflies, mere bugs. I asked them to come here to replicate the stars, but they are not the stars themselves."

Balori, defeated and angry, said, "I've come chasing fables about a butterfly and find bugs."

"Zingtai is here," Xiao-tep confirmed. "She is the Nighttime Birdwing. Once she was the stars on the Heavens, but no more."

"Why not? Let me see her!" Balori demanded.

Xiao-tep nodded. "I was about to gather some foods and visit her myself. You are welcome to come along."

Balori helped Xiao-tep gather fruits, using his long trunk to reach high into trees to pick fruits, and they went picnicking with Aglina and Zingtai. Xiao-tep introduced him and Balori could not believe the size of Zingtai. "You are so small," he said. "How can one so small have commanded all the stars of Heaven? I've been told they reached on forever."

Zingtai sighed and nodded. "They did, but when my wing was whole, I could grow to immense size. I cannot do that now."

And so Zingtai told her tale of how she lost her jewel and how the stars fell from the Heavens as they ate.

Balori said, "I must find this tentacled man that stole your jewel. Know you why he would want such a thing?"

"My jewels have the power of granting one with immortality," explained Zingtai.

Balori nodded. "Men are weak and fear their weakness. In that fear they do desperate things, even if their actions cost others beauty and comfort. I will find this tentacled man and I will crush him."

Zingtai shook her head. "No, please, don't kill him. If you could return the jewel, I would be most happy, but death for my sake would not do."

Balori harrumphed at this. "This man deserves death and nothing less. I will squish his head beneath my foot."

This made Zingtai cry and Xiao-tep asked Balori if he would leave their side. Aglina tended to Zingtai.

Balori and Xiao-tep descended the mountain into the fields. It was late in the night and the fireflies were slowly going to bed. Xiao-tep said, "Some do not like the thought of death. Zingtai is one of them."

"But this man deserves no less," retorted Balori.

"I did not say that I argue with you, but I can see Zingtai's side of the matter, as well. Killing is no kind business."

Balori looked at the fish-god. "Am I to assume you've killed before?"

Xiao-tep lowered his head. "Not in a long time. And it is no easy matter."

Balori harrumphed. "I, too, have killed and I relished it. The bastard deserved it."

"Perhaps he did," Xiao-tep allowed, "but the course of things forever changes with a death."

Balori thought on this for a while.

Xiao-tep told Balori he could stay in Taliesin for a while, but suggested he stay away from Zingtai. Balori gladly accepted. he spent three days with Xiao-tep, helping him tend to the gardens and enjoying the sun and sharing each others' stories.

"I can understand your love for Taliesin," said balori. "It is beautiful here."

Xiao-tep nodded. He smiled and was happy to see the elephant, so filled with anger, return the smile. He was happy, too, that others could see the beauty of Taliesin.

On the third day, Balori said, "I must go after the day's work."

Xiao-tep nodded. "Yours is a blessed quest."

As they worked the fields, planting rice in a paddy, Balori using both hands and his trunk to plant the rice, he said to Xiao-tep, "Friend, come with me to find the stars."

Xiao-tep straightened, looking at Balori. He frowned, shaking his head, "I cannot."

"Why?" asked Balori. "Surely you enjoyed the stars, too. And Zingtai is your friend, you should help her. And, if the tales you tell of your father and the demon Ketsueki Sato be true, you are a skilled fighter. I could use your help. the whole world could use your help now."

Xiao-tep's frown grew longer. He shook his head again. "I fear your quest will be filled with blood. I've said before, though I have taken lives, I cannot ever again. Or, in the very least, I must avoid it. I have been cursed to feel each death I cause. When I came to Taliesin, I gave up that life. I cannot go back to it. I will not go back to it."

Balori planted a few more times before saying, "That death I told you of, the man called Ghalib... I murdered him. I have no doubt it was a deserved death nor do I regret having killed him, but I felt it. Long before killing him I had become sad. Long before killing him I lost the joy of playing, of slapping the grasses on my knees before eating my meals, of prancing with the other elephants and working. But when I killed him, I killed that child in me that enjoyed those things, that could enjoy those things again. The closest I've come to that child is being here with you, working in the fields. This is the closest I've been to happiness since that man's death, since the death of my friend Tafari.

"I understand why you would not go with me, why you would want to stay here. Working and having a place where you're needed - where you're meant to be - fills one with happiness and accomplishment. But there are many people out there besides my elephants that are in trouble because of this tentacled man. They are in pain from the loss of the stars. They are being subjected to wicked things I cannot imagine, I refuse to imagine."

Kalavata began to pass overhead. The fireflies came out, dancing and sparkling in their mating rituals. Xiao-tep and Balori were surrounded by a sea of darkness and tiny counterfeit stars. Balori looked at the tiny lightning bugs and said, "I cannot allow it to go on. At some point one has to ask when it's right to take time for themselves and when it's wrong to do the same. I must help these people. I must help my people. And I must help Zingtai. Pain has entered the world like never before, it's creeping into everyone and everything. I cannot stand here in this paddy forever. Come, Xiao-tep. Come and fight with me. Come and help me return the stars to teh world."

Xiao-tep, afraid Balori spoke the truth about pain entering the world, slowly shook his head. "I cannot. Taliesin needs me."

This angered Balori. "To the hells with Taliesin! And to the hells with you! You are a god! I am a mere elephant, fashioned into a Gifted One. I am no god! I haven't the powers or abilities you do, yet I take up the weapons of war, of change and of righteousness! Any god that is beaten or bears witness to beatings and does nothing in response is no god at all! He is a coward!"

Balori trumpeted angrily. His cloud sprung from his trunk and he mounted it. He threw the three remaining plants he had in his hands into the paddy. He then drew his three weapons, glowered at Xiao-tep, saying, "That other fish. His name is Fei Li Mi. And I didn't care for him, either!" and left Taliesin.



Cordelia had not left the castle since the day her and her brother Roct had been made servants to the Weasel King named Raiju Yu. But, after night had come and all within the castle were asleep, drunk with sex and wine and opium, she stole away into the streets of the town. She did this three nights in a row before she met the man calling himself Urien the Leper, but otherwise known by select few as King Aniabas. She came before him in a back alley where he stood with a hulking man at his side. She did not know the other man to be Vitor, but he was. She saw only another leper, suspecting he may not be.

"Child, I've been told you are quite close to the Weasel King Raiju Yu. Is this true?" Aniabas asked.

Cordelia, afraid of the man's ugly, scarred face, nodded. "My brother and I are his personal servants."

"Why would you seek me out?" asked Aniabas.

"He hurts my brother," she answered.

"He hurts many people," said Aniabas.

Cordelia shook her head. "Not like my brother. He has taken him as his lover."

Aniabas gasped at this. "That wretched fiend!"

Cordelia nodded.

Aniabas looked her over. "Child, how old are you?"

"Next summer I will be a woman of fourteen," she said with some pride.

Aniabas smiled at her. It was an ugly smile on the surface, but Cordelia felt its warmth and decided then she liked the former king.

"Who are your parents?" asked Aniabas.

"They are both dead. Killed in the raid by Raiju Yu when he took the throne."

He then frowned. "Child, should the opportunity present itself, you should take it."

Cordelia answered, "I know not what you mean."

Aniabas wanted to explain, but was uncertain how to tell a child to commit murder. He only said, "Never mind, child. The time will come when I regain the throne and when I do I will care for you as if you were my own."

She smiled and ran off, returning to the castle and her bed. She fell asleep hoping the day they would be free from the Weasel King came soon.

The following day she could not find her brother despite all her efforts. At last, before she had to serve supper to the Weasel King, she heard from another servant that Roct was in the king's personal infirmary within the castle. She rushed to his side.

He lay on a bed, bundled in wool blankets and asleep. She knelt beside the small boy and caressed his head.

A nurse, a witch by some standards, named Daireen approached. She had long, curly black hair and was thin. She was pretty and not old, though not entirely young. Cordelia knew her as a woman of many fine skills, including the making of poultices and of healing. The witch placed a hand softly on Cordelia's shoulder and said, "He is weak. He may not wake for many days. If the gods are watching over him, he will never awaken."

"No!" screamed Cordelia.

Daireen removed her hand from the girl. She knelt beside her. "He has lost a lot of blood. The Weasel King did many great, unspeakable things to your brother to fulfill his own pleasures. His wounds are deep. The damned king even bit him in the arms and chest. For his spirit to let go of his body would be merciful."

Recognizing the truth in the witch's words, Cordelia wailed and leaned into her, crying for her brother. She cried out to the gods, wishing them dead for not saving her brother. She cried out for her brother, wishing him dead and his misery at an end. At last she cried out for Raiju Yu's blood and then she knew what the former-king-turned-leper had meant. She wanted desperately to kill Raiju Yu and told Daireen so.

"I know, dear," consoled Daireen. She held the Cordelia close to her breast and said softly, "You are not alone in that."

Soon the two were plotting Raiju Yu's demise.

"I can get the help of Aniabas," confessed Cordelia.

"He still lives?" asked Daireen, awed.

Cardelia nodded. "He told me to kill Raiju Yu should I get the chance, but I do not wish to do so until I have alerted Aniabas so he and his followers will be ready to take control of the castle."

Daireen nodded. "His help would be welcomed. Adn we could deal out the Weasel King's death thusly: you have access to his foods, do you not?"

Cordelia nodded.

"Good. I can make you a poison to slip in his food as you serve it to him. Then, with well-timed efforts, Aniabas can assault the gates of the castle - which I could open them from the inside - and we would leave the rest to him and his men."

Cordelia thought this a good plan and said so.

That night, after Raiju Yu had been served his meal and Roct had been visited once more, Cordelia slipped out into the town, found Aniabas and told him of the plan.

"Can this witch woman be trusted?" asked Aniabas.

"She hates the king as much as anyone," Cordelia vouched for her.

Aniabas then asked, "How many are within the walls? How many soldiers does Raiju Yu have?"

But Cordelia did not know such things. "I'm sorry," she said.

Aniabas shook his head. "It is forgiven. You have done well by your king."

Knowing Raiju Yu took his meals every evening at dusk, the following night was chosen to execute the plan.

After Cordelia had left, Vitor confessed, "I do not like this. We do not know this Daireen. I think she came with many of the other beggars and vagrants when Raiju Yu took power. And to put you faith in a child, my lord, with respects, is insanity at its best."

Aniabas sighed. "Your words are true, but I feel my words to that young girl were also true: should the opportunity present itself, take it."



Daireen went to Raiju Yu's side. He was happily playing with Kama, Gala and Jian - the three weasels he could summon to his side. He lay across a plush bed of red silks with the weasels.

"What is it you want, witch?" he grumbled, thinking she had come to reprimand him for harming the boy Roct.

"I've come to tell you plots are being set forth against you," she answered.

Without looking at her, without pausing in his playful slapping of the smaller weasels, Raiju Yu said, "Of course there are. I rule with fear, but my rule yet to be tested. Once the remaining rebels attempt whatever it is they wish to attempt and I quash it, the fear will grow stronger and I will never need worry again about blades pointed to my back."

"But these blades that I speak of are quite close to you," she said.

Raiju Yu finally looked at Daireen. She was a handsome woman, but he did not desire her. "Oh? Know you the designers of these plots?"

Daireen breathed deep. "Indeed, I do. It is the girl. She has made contact with none other than Aniabas himself."

Raiju Yu leapt from the bed. His sudden motion left the other weasels skittering for cover under the bed. "Where is he?" he demanded.

"In the town, amongst the people, disguised as a leper," Daireen told him.

Raiju Yu salivated at the thought of the kill. "I'll hunt him then."

"But this plot against you, my lord, I have a hand in it," Baireen confessed.

Raiju Yu's eyes narrowed. "You plot against me?"

Daireen shook her head. "I help deliver Aniabas to you. Tomorrow when you are fed, I will have given Cordelia a vial of poison to slip into your food, but no poison will truly be therein. It will be harmless water. At the same time as your meal, when the sun goes down, Aniabas and his followers will assault the castle. I have relayed to Aniabas through the girl that I will have opened the gates from the inside, allowing him access. I will not do this, however. You will merely have to dispatch some of your soldiers to round up and slaughter the betrayers as they stand at the gates, wondering what happened."

Raiju Yu sat on the bed again, considering the plan. "I enjoy your mind," he confessed. "But you will alter the plan in one way."

"How is that, my lord?"

"You will open the gates. If my men attack them outside the walls, there would be chance for escape, at least by some. But if we allow them within our walls and allow them to think their plan is succeeding, they will run blindly into our awaiting blades. Yes, outside many could escape, but within the walls there can be none. Outside the walls there would be a great fight, but inside the walls we would introduce unto them a great slaughter. It would as if we had lead them to the butcher and pushed them into the meat grinder. Perhaps you could provide my soldiers with additional cover with your witchery."

"That I could. I could create a fog through which the attackers could not see, but if your men remained stationed and knowing of each others' whereabouts, they could attack the oncoming rebels without fear of being properly counterattacked," suggest Daireen.

Raiju Yu further considered this, further salivating at the thoughts of the copious amounts of blood that would certainly be spilled. "Yes, this handling of the matter will suit me just fine."



Roct awoke to find his sister at his side.

"Oh, brother!" she cried out and kissed him repeatedly on the forehead.

"Where am I?" he asked.

"In the king's personal infirmary, but do not fret. You will be better soon enough. In fact, all things will be better soon enough," she told him.

"I'm hungry," said Roct.

"Good, that means you're on the mend. Soon you will be up and about."

"How is our king?" Roct asked.

Cordelia frowned. She had already decided not to tell her brother anything about her plans with Aniabas lest he attempt to send word to the king. Instead, she said, "Overseeing the kingdom as usual."

"Good," Roct moaned with some pain. "I'm hungry."

Cordelia went to the kitchen to retrieve for him a bowl of soup. Along with it, she returned with a small but sharp and pointed knife. She handed the knife over to her brother.

"What's this for? I cannot possibly cut soup. You are silly, sister," said Roct and giggled, then moaned in pain.

"It's not for the soup, brother. I want you to keep it in the chance you might need it tonight or any other night."

Roct looked at his sister, "Does someone plot against us?"

"You know well people plot against our king and as we are his servants they may very well plot against us," she half-lied. She hoped, in truth, that he would not need it in the oncoming assault when the gates were opened and Aniabas' men flooded into the castle. She feared some of them may seek vengeance against his servants, thus she had given her brother the knife.

"Take it back," said Roct. "If someone plots against us I would prefer you have its protection."

"I have one of my own," she revealed a similar knife in her bodice.

He accepted the knife, hiding it under his pillow.



Aniabas sheathed his falcata on his belt. He donned his spangenhelm which he had hidden within the burial mounds outside of town. He spoke to Vitor, "How many men have we?"

"It is difficult to take a head count under such circumstances, but I would say near a thousand," answered Vitor.

"That's nearly a third of the town," Aniabas commented.

"Many hate the Weasel King," explained Vitor. He added, "When first we attack tonight, at dusk as we had planned, we should take only two hundred. A thousand within the halls of the castle would only serve to intensify the chaos."

Aniabas thought this was well, "But we know not how many men he has inside the walls."

Vitor added, "Perhaps we should have the rest attack an hour later, should the fighting within the castle still be carrying on. Or, more likely, if he finds out about the attack. I trust no one within that castle, not even the little girl. Let the dastardly weasel think us small in numbers and weak, then when our main force hits the castle his forces will most certainly scatter in fear and confusion."

Aniabas nodded. "You make a fine general, Vitor."

Vitor thanked his liege for the compliment, then went forth to give the orders.



That night Daireen handed Cordelia a vial of clear water.

That night Cordelia slipped the assumed poison into the food of the Weasel King, mixing it well.

That night Raiju Yu enjoyed his supper, watching Cordelia standing by patiently in case he needed anything further.

That night, as Raiju Yu ate, Cordelia wondered how long it took for poison to work.

At dusk Aniabas lead two hundred of his men into the opened gates of the castle, halls filling with mystic fog created by Daireen. His men were impaled one by one, unseen hands slipping sharp blades into their throats, chests and bellies. Blood flowed, filling the hallways of the castle ankle-deep in some parts. Raiju Yu's men did not simply murder the rebels, they dismembered them. Limbs and heads were separated from bodies to be later impaled upon wooden shafts and placed outside the gates of the castle as a warning. Ears, noses and fingers were taken as momentos. Jewelry was removed and worn or sold.

Hearing the commotion within the castle, Roct sat up and struggled out of his bed in the infirmary. He started to walk away when he turned and retrieved the knife his sister had brought him from under his pillow. He placed it under his loose garment and held it to his side as though holding a pain. Slowly, painstakingly, he made his way through the castle filled with fog and death.

In the end, nearly all two hundred men lay dead.

In the end, only Aniabas, Vitor and nearly fifty others were captured for torture and entertainment or to be sent to Yaska Selith's men on the Plain of Adoration to be used as sex slaves.

In the end, Raiju Yu belched after his last gulp of food, turned to Cordelia and said, "You are a whore and your king is as good as dead."

He then lead her into the throne room where he donned a cape of deep red line with rabbit's fur. He donned the crown of gold that was once Aniabas'. He then sat on his throne, his three weasel friends appearing. Kama sat on top of the throne's back. Gala sat on the left arm of the throne, Raiju Yu gently stroking him. Lastly, Jian took up a spot at Raiju Yu's feet.

Cordelia, made to stand next to the throne, nearly jumped with fright as Raiju Yu's men brought Aniabas and Vitor before the Weasel King. Both men had been stripped naked and badly beaten. The young girl wanted to run, but stood instead silently fighting tears.

Roct then appeared in the throne room, crying out, "My lord! Are you all right?"

Raiju Yu smiled as a father smiles with pride at a son. "Yes, dear boy. Come to my side."

Roct did as he was told, though with great effort as his wounds were yet to heal. He looked at the two naked men, both of whom he recognized. "You caught the traitors," Roct said as he leaned against the throne.

Raiju Yu placed a loving hand on Roct's back, "That I did indeed and in part thanks to your sister and to our dear Daireen."

Cordelia could not help but gasp at this moment.

Vitor spat and one of the soldiers punch him in the stomach, doubling him over.

"Sister?" asked Roct. "You lent aide to our king?"

Cordelia said nothing.

"Oh, she was most helpful," said Raiju Yu. "She told me everything. At least, she told Daireen and Daireen told me. But it was your sister who designed the attack tonight on the castle which flushed out the traitors in our midst. She is a most wicked general."

Cordelia could not maintain her composure. She began to cry, sobbing.

Roct, knowing his sister's desire to be free from Raiju Yu, said, "No, she helped create a revolt," at this he turned to the Weasel king and asked, "Didn't she?"

"Well, that was her plan," said Raiju Yu. "But it worked out in my favor nonetheless."

Roct turned to his crying sister, "How could you? Remaining loyal to Raiju Yu would have assured our future. I may be younger, but I think you're far stupider."

"Tut-tut," Raiju Yu scolded the boy. "Don't be so harsh. It is not her fault she is so weak. Come here, dear girl. All is forgiven."

Afraid, not knowing what else to do, Cordelia approached the king on his throne. Here eyes overflowed with tears, her arms crossed at her chest.

Raiju Yu placed two clawed fingers on her small face. He soothed her, "All is well, my child. I cannot blame you for your immature desires. I do not hate you, child. In fact, I love you all the more for your wickedness. However, I cannot allow you to stay here."

Roct asked, "Where would you send her?"

Raiju Yu smiled an ugly little, bestial smile. He ignored Roct's question, instead answering as though Cordelia had made the inquiry. "You will make a fine little whore for Yaska Selith's men."

"Don't you dare touch her!" Aniabas cried out.

"Shut your mouth, traitor!" Raiju Yu yelled back. Then, his attention on the girl once more, he said, "Fare you well on teh Plain of Adoration, young one."

One of the soldiers approached, intent on taking her away. The words of Aniabas returned to Cordelia as she stood before the Weasel King. She knew then there would be no better opportunity. She drew the knife she had taken from the kitchen from her bodice, she gripped it hard until her knuckles went white, she lunged, slamming the blade all the way to the handle, slipping it deep into Raiju Yu's chest. The Weasel King gasped. Blood appeared on his mouth as he coughed. His eyes widened with the sudden sting of thrusting pain. He shook so violently the crown fell from his head, making loud clunking noises as it hit the floor of the throne room.

"No!" Roct cried. He let go the knife at his side, letting it slide down his body and catching it with his hand. He, too, lunged, digging the blade deep into his sister's ribs. Her mouth sputtered. Blood trickled from her nose. She turned to look at her brother, her eyes wide and sad. Her face contorted into several different emotions, all of the sorrowful. Her eyes welled with more tears. She whispered laboriously, "Brother?" before she collapsed at her brother's feet and died.

In awe and shock from the pain and sudden attack, Raiju Yu stood, threw off his cape and ran for the nearest window. He jumped out, landing on the castle ground far below. His three weasels quicly joined him.

Vitor quickly attacked, wresting a weapon from a nearby soldier and killing him. Aniabas followed suit. As more of Raiju Yu's men came towards them, an alarm was sent up. The second wave of attacks, the main force of of those loyal to Aniabas, was flooding into the castle.

Leaderless, Raiju Yu's forces fled or were killed or captured.

Roct ran to teh window after Raiju Yu, calling out to him but afraid he would not survive the jump himself. Realizing he had been left alone, Roct turned on Aniabas and Vitor. "You killed my lord and master!" he cried. He charged, swinging the small knife wildly at Aniabas.

Vitor's swiftness was deft as he plunged his weapon into the boy-child's chest.

"Vitor! No!" Aniabas cried out, but it was too late. Roct fell from Vitor's bloody blade.

Aniabas reprimanded his general. "He was just a child!"

"He was a Raiju Yu loyalist, defended Vitor.

"He was just a child!" cried Aniabas again.

"He was an enemy and was attempting an attack on my liege," Vitor defended again.

In softer tones, as Aniabas looked to the two dead children laying near his throne, he said, "They were just children."

Vitor, this time, said nothing.

As Aniabas' men poured into the throne room, the former-king-now-king-once-more was clothed and newly armed. Vitor then picked up and placed the crown upon Aniabas' head. He was now and would forever be known as Aniabas, the Ugly King.

Vitor then sent forth ten ment to search for Raiju Yu. Three returned shortly after carrying a fourth man. The fourth man was bloody and one leg was nearly chewed off. The three others reported that Raiju Yu's weasels had attacked them killing six and badly wounding this other man.

Aniabas, still in shock from the deaths of the two children yet knowing he was needed, said, "We cannot waste time. We must assume retaliation from Raiju Yu and his demonic liege Yaska Selith."

Vitor nodded and set himself about the difficult task of raising an army over night.



Raiju Yu presented himself to the demon dog Yaska Selith immediately upon his return. The weasel's return did not please Yaska Selith and Raiju Yu was claimed a failure. He was, however, accepted back amongst the demon dog's numbers. Yaska Selith remained in a foul mood until, later the next day, some men arrived on the Plain of Adoration saying they had been sent by Sinvergüenza. They produced and presented to Yaska Selith a giant emerald, stating that Sinvergüenza sent it as a sign of his loyalty. These men further told Yaska Selith, much to his delight, that Sinvergüenza was busily raising an army for him.

Yaska Seltih then said to Neboshazzar, "I am glad for Sinvergüenza. Soon we will have an army we can use to expunge this king to the south. We will leave no survivors."

Neboshazzar listened attentively and screeched in joy.



Akadian Dorn left the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar to visit the people of Bizo not so much for the reasons Negkendra had suggested, but, as he had explained to his friend Macia Thrace, "I deserve a break from my work and I should meet this employer of mine in person."

And so Akadia came to visit the Eternal Empress and found her to be courteous, beautiful though frail, charming and well-loved. He adored her children who went fishing with him three times during his stay down at the river. While at the river their faces would often grow forlorn. When he inquired as to why the river made them sad, the children lied and said they were not sad, afraid of telling unhappy tales to their guest and upsetting him.

The Eternal Empress washed Akadia with accolades for his work and gave him a large bonus in the form of a chest filled with coins and farmland outside the city should he ever want to retire there. Akadia liked the food and spirits of the Bizo and loved the people even more. He had a wondrous time during his stay.

On the last day of his visit, as his things were being packed for him and the chest of coins being lifted onto an elaborately decorated carriage - also a gift from the Empress to show her appreciation - he decided he should witness the elephants he worked so hard to caravan to the Bizoan people, to see the work they did here.

As he mounted a hill, the very hill Albert had once stood upon, he saw the things the dead alchemist had once seen: elephants being beaten into submission, some with gashes and wounds and infections secreting yellow pus, many with eyes so wary they knew not where they were nor what they were doing. Akadia saw mahouts beating the poor animals even when they did their work properly. As Akadia stood atop the hill, watching the elephants mindlessly, obediently building the ever-growing tower in honor of the Eternal Empress' dead husband, his heart was touched by sorrow.

And as Albert had once stood atop the hill, bearing witness to the tragedy of the Elephant Crusade, whispering words of disbelief, so too did Akadia whisper the very words Albert once spoke, "By the gods... what have we done?"


Thanks for reading, folks. Be sure to check back next Friday when I post the fifth and final act (this time I promise!) of "The Elephant Crusade".

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