by Christy Boston
Abyssus Cave, the Emperor's outer dungeon, was littered with coughed
up human bones, some bearing the telltale signs of charring. The air
was rank with the rotten stench of partially digested and equally
defecated flesh. It was a dreadful place, this Abyssus Cave, and the
perfect place in which to hold the Kebakaranian Empire's most notorious
criminals. Twenty-four of them were now huddling within its yawning
mouth awaiting their fate--whatever that would be, whenever it would
come, the not knowing being half the torture.
Twenty-three of the prisoners cast into this forsaken dungeon were
guilty of treason. Darren of Valdersa, mastermind behind the latest
conspiracy to overthrow Kebakarania's ailing Emperor, now sulked within
his cramped cage. The other prisoners moaned in much the same
discontented tune, all except for one, a young woman named Mollie who
was unlike the others because she was innocent. Her heart had always
remained true to the Kebakaranian throne. Her heart still remained
true, even now as she was sitting forlorn and silent amidst the griping
Darren was grabbing the bars of his cell now with arms flexing and
rippling beneath battle weary garments. "If we don't free ourselves, we
will die here to rot! Do you people hear me? We will rot, I tell you!"
Several pairs of eyes glistening with trepidation looked at him
helplessly. Mollie peered up from the cobalt shadows. Chains jangled
softly, clanking coldly against heavy shackles. Something from
somewhere dripped in the darkness. A rat squealed.
"We won't rot."
All eyes moved toward a watery corner where a figure hunched in a
bed of mud, her ankles bound by chains. "No, we won't rot," the woman
said, "the Beasts of the Night will surely consume us once they scent
us here." She was pointing at a mysterious dark gap near the back of
the cave. "They will tear us limb from limb, sinew from sinew, bone
from bone as they suck down our very souls." The gaunt finger grazed
slowly through the air, circling around, taking aim at Darren next.
"Don't you see? The Emperor Arrio has condemned us to eternal digestion
for our rebellion against him while he was weak!"
"Be quiet, you blathering old bag of wind!" The shadows made
Darren's rugged face extra fierce. "If the Beasts of the Night get us,
they'll just eat our bodies, and nothing more!"
Up until now the passage deep in the back of the cave had been just
a vacant hole. Suddenly its shadows were spreading or the chasm itself
was widening. Without moving, without really changing, the empty hole
seemed to be growing a fine set of jagged teeth with each passing
moment of its being noticed.
Darren hastily pulled out a flint that he had been hiding in his
clothes, but before he was able to strike it, his fingers fumbled. The
flint fell, clattering clumsily through the bars of his cage and out of
his reach. It sparked briefly when it hit the stone below, rolling to a
stop right at the tattered hem of poor, innocent Mollie's skirt.
Mollie regretfully looked at the little chip of flint before her.
Fire would keep the Night Beasts away, or so legend would predict, but
she could see nothing down here in this wretched dungeon that would
burn aside from the clothes on their backs.
The others were taunting the humble girl suddenly, throwing
insulations and japes her way by the bushels. Mollie was just a stupid,
useless girl to the other prisoners, unwanted and unfairly scorned by
all who knew her. If they had it their way they would just burn her to
keep themselves alive.
Their bitter mocking was soon thwarted when a deep moan rose up from
the toothy black crevice at the back of the cave. The strange new
utterance coming from that ominous throat was distant, but definitely
discernable. Everyone stopped to listen, waiting and holding their
breath until the dreadful sound came again, louder and closer this
time. No one spoke, no one even dared to move, and an eerie silence
dampened the air as everyone began to let out their breath slowly,
Then, as a storm breaks to unleash its pent up fury, a barrage of
thrashing groans like the gnashing of giant teeth began slicing the air
just beyond the precipice. The eruption of vile and horrendous noise
then trailed off with a reverberating guttural rage but was followed
immediately by a flood of twenty-three frantically shouting human
Mollie hastily grabbed the flint. Another groan was belching from
the bowels of the dungeon's formidable black pit, a gastric churning so
loud it could be heard above twenty-three yelling adults. Striking the
flint against the rocks, Mollie whimpered, pressing with all her might.
Sparks snapped in every direction, a few thankfully catching an obscure
pile of tinder that had fallen in from above. Ripe for the burning, the
discarded brush quickly flared to life. Gastric screaming mercifully
subsided as ethereal stomachic carnivores receded back down into the
depths of digestive darkness.
Mollie had just saved her people, for a while longer anyway, pushing
back their gruesome deaths for however many minutes the fire burned. No
one thanked her, though, not one even offered her a kind word. She did
not belong here with these rebels, she a prisoner of prisoners, an
outcast even among her own kin. All because she had helped a boy twelve
winters ago, a lost boy whom had been alone and afraid. The boy had
come from the Kebakaranian Empire, deserted when his horse had taken
sudden flight and dumped him in the deep of the woods.
The people of Valdersa would have killed that poor boy had Mollie
not taken him in; the people of Valdersa hated the power and authority
of the Kebakaranian Empire that much. Mollie hid the boy for a night,
feeding him and giving him a warm place by her fire, a crime of
treachery in the eyes of the people of Valdersa. "So you saved a
Kebakaranian boy!" Darren shouted at her when the people learned of her
act of kindness the following day, "Do you think the Empire will not
still crush us when Arrio decides to overtake us now that that boy
knows we are here?" But Mollie had not thought of that. No, she had
only wanted to help a lost boy who had done no harm to anyone.
"He will come for us tonight." Mollie said through the din, looking
at Darren squarely for the first time in her life.
"Who?" Darren spat, "Who is coming for us tonight?"
"The new Emperor."
"There is no new Emperor, you fool!" Darren shouted.
Mollie flinched away from him.
"Arrio would have to have a son and he cannot conceive children.
That means there is no heir to his throne, you stupid stump of a girl!
Otherwise we would not all be fighting to claim it, now would we?"
"The boy from the Empire told me that Arrio had a son. That was
twelve years ago. Arrio's son will be old enough to take the throne by
"That boy from the Empire was just a rich kid with nothing better to
do than to scare us all with lies!" Darren was spitting. "It's been
twelve years and nothing has changed. But Arrio will soon be dead and
that skinny boy you so saved has long since forgotten you. There is NO
new Emperor, and even if there was, why would I ever surrender to him--when
I could BE him?"
"You don't know what you say." Mollie said. "You do not understand
his power!" Oh, they had all heard of the power that the son of Arrio
would possess. He would come with supernatural fire, that he would do,
but he had to be born first before he could incinerate anyone, and
since no one had ever seen the boy, no one believed he existed beyond
the realms of imagination.
Bowing her head and sobbing once, Mollie raised her eyes to look at
each of the prisoners one by one. "Confess your rebellion to the new
Emperor, the son of Arrio, the rightful heir to the throne. Promise
fealty to him and trust in his rule that he may forgive you and let
your people live."
"I will not listen to this!" Chains violently clanked against iron
as Darren lost his cool. "Valdersa blood runs in your veins too, or
have you forgotten this in your self-righteousness?" He was pointing
vehemently at Mollie. "Tell THAT to your fiery Emperor when he comes
and see if he doesn't burn you FIRST!"
The incitation worked. Stones and pebbles and sticks were soon flung
Mollie's way in a flurry. She cowered timidly beneath the ledge of
rock, falling silent for the remainder of their time in that festering
pit known as Abyssus Cave, the Emperor's outer dungeon.
* * *
A new light came several hours later to the weary prisoners. It was
swelling through the passage leading down into their soggy holding
cell. The fire near Mollie had burned down to embers. The groaning out
of the depths resumed, though it thankfully kept its distance. The
prisoners began to stir, their eyes glossy from fatigue. The vines and
tangled weeds above them were beginning to glow with the same strange
Tendrils of smoke lit by eerie umber luminescence snaked before
their widening eyes as the stark realization hit the twenty-four
Abyssus Cave, the Emperor's outer dungeon, was on fire.
Full blown screams filled Abyssus Cave as bright hot fire fingered
its way above the prisoners, rapidly spreading its canopy of glowing
death. Chained Valdersans pummelled the rocks, beating their fists into
bloody stumps. Those in cages threw themselves to and fro, desperately
trying to shake loose from their pens. Bodies thrashed against red-hot
metal in sheer agony. One by one the fire devoured the doomed
prisoners, turning proud and insolent Valdersa rebels into blackened
corpses oozing scorched blood.
Cowering against the rocks, poor Mollie could only watch helplessly
as the silhouette of a new and strange man was advancing surprisingly
unscathed through the swirling conflagrations. The Kebakaranian boy's
words spoken twelve cold winters ago echoed through her mind as the
shadowy man, despite the flames, grew ever closer…
The new Emperor will come with cleansing fire, and nothing will
be able to quench what he wills to burn. The Emperor Arrio has a son,
you see, a son named Zane who will one day put right all the wrongs
done to his father.
So he had come after all, this Arrio's son, the Emperor Zane. She
knew it was him because he was coming just the way the boy had said he
Glowing debris was now raining down heavily into the pit. Mollie,
still chained beneath a slab of rock, remained for the moment untouched
by the shower of embers. Though her eyes were stinging from the smoke,
she could still make out Zane where he was standing amidst the inferno.
A billowing cloud of inky hair was whipping around his head, obscuring
it, revealing it, and obscuring it again. In that single and terrible
moment when she glimpsed his beautifully menacing face, she knew
without a doubt she was seeing fire incarnate.
And Fire Incarnate was very angry.
An awful terror lanced through her. What would the new Emperor do
when he discovered that she had yet to feel his wrath? Fearing he would
become more hostile when he discovered her there, fearing even more
that he would direct that hostility fully upon her, Mollie pressed
against the rocks hoping to hide from him. It was of no use, however.
As raw combustion miraculously sprang to life off his fingertips, the
shadows protecting her were chased away in a flash of light so
brilliant it was blinding.
Zane eyed Mollie where she huddled cowering behind her shackled
wrists. His power over her tore the air with a feral groan, a power so
awesome that it would have been beautiful had it not been so deadly.
Eyes fierce with deepest ire, mouth set in a grimace that reeked of
loathing, Zane was seething with a reverential wrath and poor Mollie
helpless with nowhere to go. Hand now held high and preparing to strike
her with roasting fire, his scowling eyes flashed cruel intent.
Resigning herself to her fate, Mollie hid her face in her arms, her
body convulsing with wretched sobs before she collapsed under the
blessed veil of unconsciousness.
* * *
"She's waking up!"
The voice was almost childlike, high and excited and exuberant.
There was a resounding commotion that followed, things being shuffled,
voices muttering and exclaiming softly, the rustling of fabric as
bodies scurried about. The bed shook once, twice, and then was sagging
down and Mollie feared she would tumble out. Trying to open her eyes
was proving to be difficult though she was grateful to be out of that
tumultuous, fiery nightmare.
"Open your eyes, girl," such a rich and motherly voice, "Open your
eyes and greet your new life."
A cool wet cloth was dabbing at Mollie's face and she found herself
turning into it, so soothing and sweet it was. When she tried to speak,
only a tiny crack came out. It hurt to use her voice. The first thing
her eyes met when she forced them open was a strange woman looking down
at her, round and fleshy and pale, so unlike Valdersan women whose skin
was ruddy and sometimes freckled.
"Where am I?"
"How silly of you, child." The woman said, smiling though she
provided no answer. "Rest while you can, for soon you will need to rise
up. You need a proper bathing. A right mess you came to us, all covered
with ash and mud and rags!"
"Ash?" Mollie bolted upright but was cut off abruptly by a fit of
coughing. "The new Emperor," she managed to wheeze out, "he was there,
with his fire!"
"Oh, relax now, child." The woman's pudgy hand was forcing Mollie
back into dreamy pillows. Lilac and wild orchid filled her senses as
silk and feathers enveloped her head. "Of course the Emperor was there,
otherwise how would you have gotten here?"
"You mean it was real? The fire, the cave, the Emperor Zane coming
for us?" Mollie wasn't sure that she wanted to hear the answer, yet she
was curious as to how she was still alive. "Did someone kill him?"
"You mustn't speak such things." Worry creased the woman's forehead.
"The Emperor Zane is not dead, no one killed him. He is alive and very
well and looking forward to finally speaking with you."
Mollie shot up out of bed, hurling herself past the round woman but
quickly losing her footing. The woman was soon standing over her,
laughing dryly. "He brought you back from the fire so that you did not
have to perish with those filthy rebels. He made ashes of Valdersa too,
everyone and everything, gone! He left no survivors. None, except that
is, for you."
She knelt before Mollie now, her face all round circles. "Apparently
Zane considers you worthy, or he'd have burnt you along with the
Mollie could only gawk up at the woman in apologetic shock. "There
has been a mistake," she said, "I do not know Zane, nor could he know
"Oh, not according to Zane."
The woman was gripping Mollie's arms. Her hands were warm, firm,
strong… Heaving, she pulled Mollie up off the floor. Her ample body was
warm and soft and smelled of lemongrass. Her breath was tainted with
mint. "He claims he knows you well enough to have spared your life
despite the detestable crimes your people committed against his throne."
Suddenly Mollie wanted more than anything to leave this place,
whatever this place was. Beautiful and treacherous, it was like the
malice hiding behind that woman's smile. She wriggled out of the
"I have never met an Emperor," she managed to utter, "they don't
come out to places like Valdersa. We are nothing to the likes of kings!
If I tell Zane that he is mistaken about me, he'll become angry with
me. I can't bear to face his wrath again!"
"And do you think any one of us wants to see it?" The woman easily
managed a very stern reprimand in reply, her sapphire eyes sparking.
"No, silly girl, you will have to explain it yourself when you stand
before him. And you WILL stand before him whether you like it or not."
With those words, the round woman got up, turned on her heel, and
with a rustling of fabrics was gone out the door.
* * *
They brushed Mollie's hair to a shiny luster as she sat before a
mirror. Young maidens clad in linen and silk were pampering her with
delightfully soft hands, rolling her mahogany mane into sweeping braids
and cascades. She wanted to tell them all to stop. She was being
prepared for her destruction though the maids did not know it. The
Emperor did not even know it yet, which would make his fury burn that
much hotter when he figured it out.
Mollie looked up at the maid securing her hair and met her sparkling
eyes in the reflection of the mirror. She was not a day over fourteen,
this maid with smooth ivory skin and tawny braids wrapping her head
like a crown.
Swallowing hard, Mollie spoke. "What, exactly, does it mean when the
Emperor deems someone as worthy?"
"Oh, I don't know!" The maid chimed back with a flit of her hand as
she worked delicate flowers into Mollie's tresses. "But you must be it,
or he would not have spared you. Zane won't be disgraced, so if you
fail him, you are going to really get it bad."
Mollie spun her head around to look directly at the maid with wide
eyes. The girl simply twisted Mollie's head back again. "Just don't
disgrace him and he'll likely be kind to you. Sit still, please, that I
may finish preparing you for the Emperor."
"He won't be kind to me!" Mollie squeaked, "You are all
horribly mistaken! Zane thinks he knows me, but I was covered in dirt
and ashes when he found me. I've never met an Emperor, I would have
known if I had. I tell you, he mistakes me for another!"
"Oh, then you are in T-R-O-U-B-L-E! Boy, oh boy, when he finds out
he saved you for nothing; you will have wished you burnt up in his
"What could be worse than his fire?"
"Don't you know anything?" Finishing Mollie's hair with a final
jerk, the maid stepped back. "Get him mad enough; he'll burn you all
right, but not to kill you, no. He'll just let you fester all scarred
up for the rest of your life. He might let you wander the earth like
that, or he might throw you in the dungeon below his castle where the
spiders live in their giant sticky webs…"
Mollie decided in that moment that she would have to escape this
Later while sitting clad in a modest gown waiting for someone to
escort her to her doom, she thought up ways she could flee. Looking out
the window dismayed her, however; she discovered that she was in a
tower several stories up. Trying the door only proved it locked. She
could hide under the bed or in the armoire, but then she'd be found and
surely word would reach Zane that she had tried to hide from him. She
would be labeled a coward, just like her people had been, running when
they should have surrendered, fighting when they should have obeyed.
There was no hope; she was realizing with a sinking feeling that bred
new fear, no chance for her to flee the Emperor's wrath to come.
* * *
The guard was leading Mollie to a great door. Beyond its heavy dark
wood and scrolling wrought iron, the Emperor's tower loomed. "I go no
further," he said, "but once inside that door, you can only go up. Zane
is waiting for you somewhere inside and he will know when you enter.
You will not see him at first. The way up to him is narrow and
difficult, but if you keep on it, you shall find him."
"Is he mean?"
The guard regarded her curiously before answering her. "His Majesty
does not like to punish with fire. If he had it his way he would never
use it on anyone, but some leave him with no choice. Does this make him
mean? Only to his enemies, I would say. Have you chosen to be his
Mollie didn't know how to answer that. She had never intended to
wrong Zane, yet somehow she would before this night was over simply
because she lived. Did that make her his enemy? She had not chosen to
be born into a rebellious and insolent people.
Zane was expecting a long lost friend to come up into his tower. She
was nothing more than a strange girl from an enemy village. How would
she ever be able to face him after what power she had seen? By default
she was guilty; her birthright alone made her an enemy of Kebakarania.
The only thing left standing between the Kebakaranian Emperor and the
total extinction of the Valdersan people…
…was her life.
* * *
The tower was massive.
If looking up was intimidating, looking down was terrifying. Mollie
stopped when the stairs narrowed, making the mistake of looking back
the way she had come. Crouching in fear against the wall, suddenly she
was too petrified to go on.
Was it not customary for an Emperor to summon his subjects before
him while he sat upon his throne? Were not throne rooms at ground
level, sprawling wide and flat where tapestries hung and cauldrons of
fire gave their light? She couldn't help but wonder if this harrowing
journey up to Zane was just another test of her obedience. There were
so many steps to climb, and so steep! With no rails to hold onto, one
wrong stumble and she could easily fall to her death.
The words of the Kebakaranian boy were ringing through her panicking
mind. "The people of the Empire obey their king, trusting in his
rule even in the absence of understanding." Mollie was certainly
lacking understanding now. If Zane truly believed her a friend, why the
fearful journey up? She imagined him pushing her down after all of her
hard work to get to him, his laughter chasing after her before a blast
of scalding fire consumed her midflight. The whole world had forsaken
her, the great Emperor would probably kill her, and the tower's massive
size was only magnifying her aching destitution.
Coming from somewhere above the light of a fire could be seen
burning steady and bright. Mollie knew nothing about this fire or where
it would lead her, yet she kept her eyes upon its light to guide her.
She did not know what Zane would do to her when she got up there but
she crept forward anyway, trying to believe in the miracle of mercy.
"He's a good king." She told herself out loud. "He's a good king. He is
a good king. The Emperor Zane is a very good king."
* * *
Zane was patiently waiting for her when she reached the top of the
tower, his ebony hair falling in glossy streams across his shoulders
and down his back. Leather garments were draping him like billowy dark
clouds. The light glinting off his imperial pendants flashed. The metal
chains dripping from his belt glittered like rain.
He was strength.
He was power.
He was awe inspiring and beautiful and dark. The very sight of him
evoked terror and might and the threat of an all consuming fire.
A stone bridge spanning the enormous diameter was all that separated
the powerful Emperor from little Mollie now. The large cauldron lamp
next to him blazed, its fire whipping and swirling up into the air,
illuminating the lofty ceiling with beautiful arcs of coppery light.
What was she supposed to say, to do? Mollie did not know if she
should bow, or address Zane in a certain way. He was her Emperor, after
all, and she just a naive village girl not accustomed to the ways of a
"You hesitate to come to me, Mollie." He knew her name. How did he
know her name? "Though I understand that you fear me, as you should, I
would think you'd be curious as to why I brought you here."
Mollie suddenly fell to her knees on the bridge, collapsing
prostrate on its span. He was walking over toward her, stopping just as
he reached where she lay.
Trembling, Mollie gripped Zane's boots with her hands. "O King! Why
have you chosen me to bear the burden of shaming you?"
"Whatever are you talking about?"
Mollie looked up at him.
"One of the maids who prepared me, she said you had been looking for
me for years. But," she began weeping, "but… I am not the one you seek.
There has been a mistake."
"Is that so?" The Emperor was chuckling softly. "Well, then what
shall I do with you?"
"Do not be harsh with me!"
"Do not command your Emperor!"
No more chuckling.
Mollie, realizing the magnitude of her blunder, choked back a sob.
"I beg your forgiveness, O King!"
Zane, pitying the poor girl at his feet, sighed compassionately.
"You are forgiven."
"I never meant to deceive you."
"Then why were you with those rebels?"
Mollie's heart jumped into her throat. How would she ever answer
him? She could not accuse the imperial soldiers of having taken her to
Abyssus Cave in error. Such an accusation would insult the Emperor who
had sent them. Fearing that anything she said now would only provoke
the Emperor to punish her severely; Mollie sadly hung her head.
A creaking of leather and a jingling of chains resounded through the
air. Zane was kneeling down in front of her. He firmly grasped her
shoulder. "Tell me what it is that troubles you." When she did not
reply, he squeezed harder. "That's a command, Mollie, and one you'd
Her breath was trembling within her, her head growing dangerously
light. His touch was frightening her beyond reason. One wrong word and
"I-I am just a p-poor woman from a rebellious people n-not worthy to
enter your kingdom. I d-don't even know how to properly address you, or
s-speak to you or bow to you, m-much less how to confess to you why you
should-should h-hate me."
"And why, little one, should I hate you?"
"I-I cannot be the friend you are seeking." And with sweat pouring
down to mingle with her tears, Mollie confessed her disgusting truth.
"In my veins runs the blood of-of Valdersa, a sworn enemy to your
Several moments marked only by the Emperor's frightening silence
ticked slowly by.
Finally, Zane rose to his feet. His laughter rang out through the
yawning shaft of the tower. When he looked back down at Mollie,
amusement was glowing behind his waning glare. When Mollie hid her
face, he firmly put his boot on her fragile shoulder. "Look at me and
try to remember who I am!"
Mollie timidly looked up. He asked her to remember a boy twelve
years ago, a lonely boy whom had lost his way in the woods. "Do you
think I don't remember that you gave me the last of your food?" He
removed his foot from her shoulder. "Do you think I have forgotten how
you risked everything to help me that night?"
"It was you," Mollie whispered as all the blood drained from her
face, "you were the boy that was lost in the woods." Shame was flooding
her features. "I am so sorry I did not have more to give you that
night, you were so hungry."
"And so were you." Zane was reaching out his hand. "Yet you gave me
all you had. You thought you were helping a pauper who could never
repay you. You risked your life to help that pauper, not knowing that
he would be the next Kebakaranian Emperor."
Stunned, Mollie reached up, taking Zane's extended hand. The fire
next to him lashed once before settling down again.
"You could have turned from the Empire when your people taunted you
year after long year because of me, but you did not." Zane stuck his
free hand into the fire. Tendrils of flame began to wrap delicately
around his wrist. Mollie could see his veins snaked beneath his flesh,
so he was definitely human. Yet, amazingly, he did not burn.
"You could have cursed me while I tested you with fire, but you did
not." Zane was now pulling his hand from the fire, but the flames were
still clinging to him. He blew into them with fervor, his breath of
fire instantly flashing several feet upward. A spectacular show of
prowess so casually executed before resuming words meant to free anyone
who believed in and feared the great and all-powerful Emperor of
"Because you are so humble, I will share my Empire with you. Because
you are so meek, you shall share in my great strength.
"Though your Valdersan blood condemns you, Mollie, your faith in me
has saved you."
* * *
Mollie went out into the world and told of the Emperor's mercy,
dispelling the lies about his throne and spreading the message of his
life. The Kebakaranian Empire thrived, growing far and wide with light
and warmth extended to all who would accept it. For those who insisting
on living by the ways of rebellion, their place was in the Abyssus Cave
where darkness reigned so black there was no escaping it. The Beasts of
the Night eventually fed on such people, dragging them down that
ethereal black throat, swallowing their souls as their bodies burned
with punishing fire from above.
For those who chose the light, their place was in prosperity; their
faith in an Emperor they had never seen would be rewarded by his
kindness and protection. He would reveal the fullness of his glory to
them when they arrived into his kingdom--tested by the journey,
purified by fire, and proven worthy by an obedience born out of their
© 2013 Christy Boston
Bio: Ms. Boston is another previously unpublished author making the grade this month. She is working on her first novel.
E-mail: Christy Boston
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