Friday, August 1, 2008

"The Elephant Crusade" -- Act V


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


ACT V: Balori Begins His Army

UNEASY BROTHERHOOD: Wherein Akadia Dorn Resigns as Head of the Elephant Crusade; Balori Visits the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar Intent on Murder; An Uneasy Brotherhood in Formed; Sinvergüenza Arrives at the Peony Tea House



Akadia Dorn returned to the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar and his large center from which he managed the Elephant Crusade. His workers greeted him with questions about the Eternal Empress, asking if their work was serving a glorious cause. Akadia could say nothing on the matter. Indeed, he seemed quite reserved to many of his people, but they soon decided their employer was tired from the long trip and therefore in no mood to converse on business.

That night he had dinner with his old friend Macia Thrace. They ate a fine meal of breads and couscous with lamb. Macia brought with him as a gift a bottle of fine palm wine.

Macia had missed his friend Akadia and said so. "It would seem we rarely have time to carouse together," said the former-mercenary-turned-river-pilot. "I am always on my boat ferrying people about and you are off on grand adventures across foreign countries and command teams of elephants. We should have dinner like this more often."

Akadia simply stroked his braided beard. He ate only lightly. He drank heavily. When the meal was finished the two friends found themselves drunk and lounging in Akadia's plush living quarters within the center - a room filled with extravagant silk pillows of bright colors - and talking.

"Tell me, friend, how is the Eternal Empress?" Macia asked. "Is she as beautiful as the traveling merchants would have us believe?"

"More so," Akadia admitted.

"Did she treat you well?" Macia asked.

"Better than I could have expected," Akadia said, then added with some sadness in his voice, "Better than I deserve."

Macia squinted, considering his friend. "If all went so well, why do you return as the forlorn hero?"

Akadia sighed. He looked at his friend. He said, "What we do here is wrong."

Macia took time away from his boat to be with his friend. Together the two spent the next three days together. Akadia used his time to get drunk and tell Macia of what he had witnessed in the land of the Bizo. Macia spent his time tending to his Akadia.



Balori the Towering Elephant, knowing not where else to go, came into the Grand Bazaar of Tenhar to find the land of his people. Torn was he for his desire to fulfill his quest for the Eternal Empress, but after some thinking decided his time would be best spent killing those that commanded the Elephant Crusade.

He wandered the shops and souks of the bazaar. Not many turned their heads to eye the elephant, but a few did - in part due to his size and in part in desire to capture this creature and sell him to the Elephant Crusade. Few, however, had the courage to even speak of the matter and none could will themselves to attack such a large creature.

After asking a few merchants and getting directions, Balori found the large and elaborately carved center for the Elephant Crusade and entered, smashing his way through the doors and shoving workers aside.

"I demand to see the one in charge here!" Balori bellowed.

The workers scattered, afraid of this giant elephant that spoke as a man and was so tall his ear brushed the rafters of the tall ceiling of the foyer.

"Bring the man in charge before me!" Balori cried out again. "I am Balori Shongoyo of the Elephants of Ife! It is my people you capture and enslave! I come to free them from your tyranny! I've come to kill those in charge!"

When no one came forward, Balori produced his three weapons from his belt. With his battle axe he began chopping at the pillars that had been hand-carved with scenes of the Elephant Crusade. With two strikes, his axe was already halfway through the first pillar. A third and final blow sent the elephant ear blade through the pillar.

"If no one comes forward, I will kill you all!" The center shook with Balori's rumbling voice.

Hearing the commotion and fearing for his friend's life, Macia Thrace left Akadia Dorn - who had passed out - and presented himself before the angry elephant.

"I am Macia Thrace," said he. "And I am the one in charge here."

Rage welled within Balori's heart. He thought of Tafari's suicide, of his mother's murder and he cried out, "I will squash you under my foot! You deserve no less than death for what you have done to my people!"

So great was Balori's fury, it shook Akadia from his drunken stupor and he also came forward.

"Do not fight me," Balori told Akadia. "I will kill your master and you would not stop me."

"He is not my master," Akadia said, rubbing his head and cringing at the noise. "I am the master of the Elephant Crusade. Macia is merely a friend who did not wish to see me harmed."

Macia found all his old mercenary ways return as he took a defensive stance against Balori, knowing he could not kill this large creature but readying himself to leap away or push Akadia out of the way.

Balori shook his head. His ears flapped with agitation and confusion. At last he made a decision and spoke, "Do not confuse me. Your ruse will nto work. I will kill you both."

"Go ahead," Akadia said, sighing deeply and looking up at the elephant. "I deserve no less. But let my friend go. He has no part in this. He is a sailor come to pay a visit."

Akadia admission of guilt confused Balori. "You know what you do to my people, yet you carry on with it?"

Akadia said, "No. I knew not the outcome of the Elephant Crusade. I've just come from a visit to the Bizo and saw the atrocities there. I knew nothing of what went on under the Eternal Empress' rule. The things I saw disgusted me. I've returned and I will resign from my position. If you come from Ife, you truly have a right to kill me. I will not fight you. I will lie down and allow your vengeance to come. It is what I deserve."

Balori excitedly said, "At last! My people will be free!"

Akadia shook his head. "No they won't."

"How's that?" Balori asked. "If you are head of the Elephant Crusade and I kill you, then the Elephant Crusade topples."

"No it won't," defended Akadia. "The Empress will find someone to take my place. Killing me for vengeance is right and just. Killing me to end the Elephant Crusade is foolish. It would not end with me."

Fearing Akadia's words true, Balori lowered his weapons, returning them to his belt. He sighed. He nearly wept. He said, "I've been sent by the Eternal Empress to rediscover the stars. She said she would release my people, set them free if I were to return the stars to the Heavens. But how can one do such a thing? I am no god, I am a mere elephant. Thought I my best chance to end the suffering of my people was to kill you, but now I see the truth in your words. Your death will accomplish nothing but to quench my own bloodlust." At this Balori looked at Akadia and said, "Which is not a matter that is yet out of the question."

Akadia nodded. "Again, do as you wish with me. I deserve it."

Macia, unable to remain silent, said, "How can you say such things?"

"I told you of the horrors I saw in Bizo," said Akadia. "I am at the heart of it, no matter how ignorant I was of the matter. My hands are just as bloody as the Empress'."

Disgusted with the ongoing talking, needing to think things through a bit more, Balori harrumphed and turned to leave the center.

"Elephant!" Akadia called out. "Where do you go? I'm here! Kill me! Please, I beg of you! I deserve it!"

"Bah!" Balori spat. "The greatest punishment I could deliver would be to let you live so that you may feel your pain and despair."

"Do you go to find the stars then?" Akadia asked.

Balori sighed. "I suppose I've no other choice."

"And where will you start?" Akadia approahced.

Balori shook his head. "I was told a black tentacled man stole away with one of the jewels of Zingtai. Would you know him?"

Akadia shook his head. "No... but... tell me of this jewel."

"It's large and green like an emerald," said Balori.

Akadia and Macia immediately recognized the description. "We have seen it!" claimed Akadia.

Balori's eyes widened. "Where?"

"Here, in the bazaar. It was sold to a man who sent it to his master some place called the Plain of Adoration!"

Balori approached the tow men. Macia backed away a little as the elephant drew near.

"When did this transpire?" Balori demanded.

"Not long ago," Akadia answered. "Perhaps two weeks or more."

"Could this be the jewel I seek?" Balori asked.

"I doubt there can be many giant emeralds," Akadia said.

Balori nodded. He turned to leave once more, saying, "I suppose then I go to retrieve the Jewel of Zingtai from this master of the Plain of Adoration."

"Elephant!" Akadia called once again, running out the smashed doors to yell after Balori. "If you do not wish to kill me and if you return to your quest to search for the stars, though I may not deserve it, I ask for a chance at redemption. Let me join you. Once I was a pirate and a soldier for hire. Perhaps my skills would be useful to you."

Balori looked back, harrumphed and walked off in anger.



Balori returned to the center the next day. Again the employees scattered. Again Akadia presented himself to the elephant.

Balori, nervous, ears twitching and hands fidgeting, said, "I've received martial training for this task I've been sent to do. Both of my masters thought spilling blood would be a necessary thing, or at least an unavoidable thing."

Balori sighed and fidgeted as he spoke with Akadia in the foyer of the center, shifting his weight from one leg to the next. "Sometimes I wonder if I'll need a small army. Returning the stars to the Heavens seems an enormous task, even for one enormous as I am."

Akadia listened attentively, set to not interrupt.

"I... I was wondering," said Balori. "If you would like to join me. Your skills may prove useful."

Akadia smiled, "I am at your side."

Balori nodded. "Good, but if we are to work together, we must do so as brothers. I cannot afford fighting an enemy only to discover a friend is also an enemy. Any disloyalty will be punished swiftly and with agonizing death."

"I would not betray you," replied Akadia. "I could not bring harm to another elephant again. If I displease you for any reason, you've still the right to take my life and I would not fight it."

Akadia sent word to the Eternal Empress he had resigned, instructing his messenger to state, "Akadia Dorn resigns because of the crimes you commit against nature, against the Cosmos, and against elephants. He will never harm another elephant again."

Akadia left the center behind, never looking back and idly chatting with his new friend Balori.

As the two gathered a few supplies, as Akadia had insisted, Akadia also suggested, "We should seek more aide."

"From whom? Know you trustworthy persons?" asked Balori.

Akadia nodded. "At least one, perhaps two."

That night a tremendous thunderstorm rolled over the bazaar and indeed all of Tenhar. Akadia left Balori's side, who was camped outside the bazaar in a makeshift shelter he had made himself with palm fronds and mud. He came to the dock where Macia Thrace's boat was tied, where Macia himself lived on the boat.

Akadia boarded the boat to find Macia lounging and drinking palm wine.

"Some storm, eh?" Macia asked. "It'll kill my business tomorrow, but the farmers will be happy."

Akadia, not wanting to chat, said, "I've resigned from the Elephant Crusade. I'm going with Balori to restore the stars and free his people."

"What foolishness is this?" Macia demanded as he stood.

"It is no foolishness and I am no fool. Restoring the stars will be no easy task. Balori needs help, our help."

Macia grimaced. "Are you asking me to throw in with the two of you?"


"Bah!" Macia scoffed. "I'll have none of it!"

"But we'll need people like you, people of your skill. Balori thinks he may need an army."

"Then let him hire one. I am no longer a mercenary and neither are you!"

Akadia sighed. "Whatever is behind the disappearance of the stars, it cannot be anything but wicked."

"Get off my boat!" Macia demanded.

Akadia did as he was told. He stood on the dock in the heavy rain. He looked at his friend still standing on the boat. He said, "He needs our help."

"For what?" Macia asked. "To purge the world of evil? The world is evil. It has always been filled with evil, as have the hearts of men. Whatever we do with our lives will never change that. Restoring the stars to the Heavens will not cleanse the world. Helping the changed beast will not cleanse your hands."

"Perhaps not, but to stand by and let the evil reign is to be as evil," Akadia attacked.

Macia stood a long time looking at his friend getting soaked in the downpour. The truth of his heart came forth as he spoke, "Saw I once before a jewel take the life of a friend. I'll not see it again. Go."

Akadia stared at his friend a long time. Thunder shook the Heavens as he said, "We have to do something." He then turned and left the dock.

Macia was alone on the boat. He watched as his friend walked from the river's shore. Rage welled within him. He picked up a crate and threw it across the boat, crying out in anger as it smash against the deck.

Lightning strike after lightning strike hit the ground nearby.

Macia breathed heavily, almost panting with anger. He went to the front of the boat, kneeling to a trap door in the deck. He lifted the door. Hidden within was a large and heavy war hammer. It was old and long unused. Macia pulled the hammer out, placed it to his forehead, his eyes closed. He whispered, "Never did I want to use you again."

He stood suddenly, left the boat, left the dock, following and finally catching up to his friend Akadia Dorn.



"I have one more thing to do," Akadia said the next morning as he left the camp where Macia and Balori were busily packing up supplies.

Akadia entered the streets of the bazaar and wandered, asking questions of souk owners and regulars, trying to find one particular man. When Akadia finally found his man, he was sweeping mud and water out of the souk where he worked as assistant. Akadia approached him

"Negkendra," Akadia said.

Negkendra looked up to see Akadia. Unsure of what the head of the Elephant Crusade wanted, afraid he may be in trouble, Negkendra decided the courtesy given to a customer was his best approach. "How can my master help you today, sir?"

Akadia placed his hands on Negkendra's shoulders. With some effort he said, "I went to see the Bizo. I saw what you told me to see. I've resigned as head of the Elephant Crusade."

Yet uncertain as to Akadia motives, Negkendra said, "I'm sorry."

"No. Don't be," replied Akadia. "I've come for you."

Negkendra backed away, breaking Akadia's hands from his shoulders.

Understanding the former mahout's fears, Akadia said, "No, no! Not to harm you. I've come because we have joined with an elephant called Balori-"

"Balori?" Negkendra recognized the name.

"Yes! He quests to return the stars to the Heavens. If he does, the Eternal Empress will free the elephants. I've come to ask you to join us."

Negkendra wondered at Akadia's words. He then let the broom in his hand fall. He left with Akadia.

"Where do you go? Come back here! There is much work to be done!" cried the souk's owner.

"I quit!" Negkendra called back.

The former mahout followed Akadia as he bought for him a horse and a few supplies, listening to the tale of Balori and the Jewel of Zingtai. Then the two men returned to the camp. When Negkendra saw Balori, he was in awe.

"This is the other man you spoke of?" anger entered Balori's voice.

"Yes," confirmed Akadia.

"He was a mahout!" Balori raged.

"At one time, yes," Akadia said. "He was the First Mahout, but he gave it up."

Balori thought of Negkendra standing up to Ghalib, of telling him to quit beating on the already dead Tafari. The elephant recognized some good in the mahout-turned-sweeper, but the idea of traveling again with a mahout did not settle well with him. He said nothing of it, however, vowing that he would have to perhaps kill all three men one day should they betray him or do anything wrong against him or his people or hinder his quest.

Balori spat out his cloud and mounted it. Akadia Dorn, Macia Thrace and Negkendra mounted their horses. They began their journey together.

As they rode, Negkendra asked Akadia, "Is this the way to the Plain of Adoration?"

Akadia shrugged. "We don't know. We will follow rumors and the words of locals until we find the way."

"The jewel that you saw, was it really the Jewel of Zingtai? Will be at the Plain of Adoration?" Negkendra asked.

Again Akadia shrugged. "We don't know."

"If we know so little, why do we set out?"

Akadia looked the former mahout, but before he could speak, Macia gave the answer, "Because we have to do something."

Negkendra silently nodded in agreement.

When Negkendra got the chance, he rode alongside Balori who found their progress slow. He could fly faster than the horses could run, but had determined not to go to the Plain of Adoration alone. The elephant battled with himself for patience. More than that, he knew he was very close to the homeland of his people, close to Ife. he wanted desperately to see the country, but his desire to free his people and this new word of a jewel that may be the jewel he sought pushed him onward and away from Ife. balori was a battlefield of emotions at the start of the journey.

"It is good to see you again, Balori," Negkendra said. "How did you come to be like this?"

Balori harrumphed, then said, "The alchemist Albert made me this way."

Negkendra nodded. "I always knew him to be a good man."



Long had it been since Shabar received word from the city. When a traveling merchant passed his form one day, Shabar stopped her. "Dear lady, where do you go?" he asked.

"I go to sell my wares in the city of the Eternal Empress. Would you be interested?" said the merchant.

Shabar shook his head. "No, but I would be interested in ending word with you to a friend named Albert. He is well known within the city and should be easy to find. I would pay you a small coin now and, if you return this way with word from him, I would pay you with more."

The merchant agreed and she set about her way.

For four days Shabar worked his fields and saw no sign of the returning merchant. He wondered if she had made off with his coin, never to return this way, but did not feel bad as he had paid her only a small amount.

On the morning of the fifth day, as Shabar was working his field, the merchant returned and hailed to him from the road. Shabar came to her side and said with a smile, "I must admit, I thought you may not return."

"Business went well," said the merchant. "I stayed on a while longer than I had intended."

"What news have you for me?" Shabar asked of her.

"This friend Albert, was he an alchemsit?"

"Yes! He is the very one," Shabar confirmed. "Is he well?"

The merchant's face grew grim, knowing this farmer had not heard the news. "I fear I must tell you your friend is dead."

"What?" Shabar was shocked, but reasoned that the alchemist was quite old.

"I could not confirm the tale one way or another, but rumors say he was murdered by some fish called Fei Li Mi within the Empress' palace," said the merchant.

Shabar's mouth worked, but no words came to him. So strongly had he felt the news that he stepped backwards once, as if he had received a blow in a fight.

"These are only rumors," the merchant tried to soothe, "but they were persistent. And there was no other Albert I could find."

Shabar thanked the merchant, paid her a small pouch of coins and watched her go. He did not move, standing at staring after her until she could no longer be seen. He then entered his home, sat at a table and asked his wife for some water.

Alia did as he asked, then sat at his side. She was once more pregnant. Their son played on the floor nearby. She asked him, "Dear Shabar, what bothers you so early in the morning?"

Shabar looked at her and said, "Albert was murdered by a servant of the Eternal Empress."

Alia cried for the old alchemist. She had loved him so. At last, she asked, "Why has she done this?"

"That I do not know," admitted Shabar, adding, "though I wish I could go discover the truth of the matter on my own."

"No!" Alia cried out. "You have a son here and another child on the way. They need you. I need you. Do not ever speak of leaving us again, even for a small respite."

Shabar consoled his weeping wife, taking her into his arms. "Quiet yourself, dear Alia. I would not leave you," he promised.



On went Sinvergüenza across many countries. When he had amassed a collection of fifty or more men and women who would be warriors in Yaska Selith's army, he would send them heading for the Plain of Adoration. But a last time he let the warriors collect and follow until there were nearly two hundred at his side.

Then he came at last to the Peony Tea House. Long did he stand before its painted green lacquered walls with fine details and pink trim so light one might consider it white if not glared upon with some small intensity. Men, women, gods and Gifted Ones flowed easily through its door. It's was an immense structure, especially for a tea house, but Sinvergüenza knew this was hardly a tea house at all. Wondered he if the same old bookies and gamblers, drunks and fighters resided within.

He turned to his chosen second, a woman named Laskmana, and said, "Go to the Plain of Adoration. Find Yaska Selith and tell him I have made it to the Peony Tea House. Tell him I will return soon with fine warriors to fill his ranks, the best warriors the Heavens and the world below it have to offer. Tell him I hope to please him."

Laskmana nodded and lead the hired soldiers away.

Sinvergüenza stood alone before the Peony Tea House. It had been a long time since he had been here. He had been a young boy, barely out of childhood, when he had first come here.

A man, poor and in rags, passed by Sinvergüenza, looking at him and then inspecting the tea house as Sinvergüenza was. "Quite a beautiful thing, isn't it?" the man in rags asked. "You'd never suspect what goes on inside by the looks of it out here."

Sinvergüenza nodded.

The man in rags entered the tea house.

Sinvergüenza followed.



Dark was the Land of the Midnight Sun. So dark was the land it seemed the captive of eternal night. Black was the land. Black was the sky. No horizon made itself visible. Its only feature was the large, oppressively glaring, blood-red sun that shone high-noon at all times.

It was this land that Momoki the Marmoset came into. He awoke in new form. His eyes were now blazing red as the Midnight Sun and flicked occasionally with solar flares. His silk hat, too, that Szu Ri had made and Gogi had given him long ago glowed with a fury of red. The rest of his body was as thick black smoke as though he smoldered, as if a shadow of his former self. Momoki looked at his new form in wonder and fear.

A demon appeared before him, gurgling with ugly laughter. The demon appeared as a giant shadow. Only its eyes and a pair of horns were not black, instead were brilliant red as the Midnight Sun and the eyes and hat of Momoki.

The sight of this demon made Momoki cringe in fear, backing away.

"Fear you me?" the demon lowered its head and asked of Momoki. The demon's voice was low and caused the air to rumble with thunder.

Momoki gave no reply. He did not know this land. He feared it, he feared the demon.

"Good!" bellowed the demon, laughing maniacally. "I am Radiant Gui. Welcome to your new home, Momoki. Welcome to the Land of the Midnight Sun!" Again the demon bellowed with laughter, causing Momoki to scurry away.

Radiant Gui followed him. "There is no escape," said the demon.

Momoki found the courage to ask, "Will you eat me?"

Once more Radiant Gui laughed, but now so loudly the black ground shook beneath Momoki. "How I wish!" cried Radiant Gui. The demon bent low and said, "But the Cosmos have greater plans for you than I. How sad it is that even I, overseer to the Land of the Midnight Sun, one of the very layers of Hell, should have to answer to the Cosmos, but I do."

Radiant Gui brought his face down to almost touching Momoki's form. Momoki shook with fright. He could now see the demon's face was that of a mangled horse with jagged teeth inside a salivating mouth. "Know you what you have become, little Momoki?"

Momoki said nothing, staring in fear and wanting desperately for his eyes to go shut to block out this nightmare world, but he found he could not close his eyes. Indeed, his glowing red eyes were now lidless and eternally staring.

Radiant Gui squatted near Momoki. "You have become the First Regret. The Cosmos charged you with the care of Taliesin, but your desires lead you elsewhere. You fell. You strayed from your purpose. But instead of killing you outright, the Cosmos wish you to be trained, to become Master of the Chamber of Despair and every now and again, whenever the Cosmos wish, you will gather soldiers together who have died prematurely or without their lessons learned and lead them on one final, great battle.

"You are lucky, Momoki. Not all creatures can find a new path. They either fulfill their destiny or die horribly following another. You have been given a second chance and a second destiny, a second path." Radiant Gui did not say this without some jealousy. He added, "Do not fail the Cosmos a second time."

As he spoke this, three baboons appeared behind him, slowly coming to rest beside the demon. Each baboon was of solid substance - one of silver, one of gold and one of amethyst. Their teeth were wicked and long and they salivated as the demon. They made small grunting sounds that further frightened Momoki.

Radiant Gui laughed. "How I love my charge in life," he said. He used a single finger to pet each baboon who, in turn, screeched pleasure and excitement for the tortures to come.

Momoki screamed in horror as the demon reached out and closed a clawed hand around him. His small smoky form shivered within the colossal hand as he filled with anguish, despair, sorrow and regret.


That's it, folks! Thanks for reading "The Elephant Crusade". Be sure to check back in a week or two when I will begin posting the next story, "Song of Momoki"!

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