To Deny the Stars by Sarah O. writing fantasy and science fiction
The clouds moved south as sunlight shattered between hand-carved columns. Glossed by the amber heat, the faces on the relief sculptures looked dismally to the side as though they could not stand to see the end of another day. In the reflection of the marble walkway was a cast of figures. Thick whispers and gleaming formal smiles were exchanged between the royalty of the Western world. In their casual linen, gold-trimmed, and square, the many members of the Sundi intermixed with the lush robes of the ruling family known as Shindo.
This day, the Eve of Edemok, the descending of the twin moons, was a new tradition in Uru Gala. It had only been twenty years today when the head member of Shindo, Han Dario, saved the entire valley from the raging god of storm and chaos, Ka’ Runa. As most stories claimed, Han seized Ka’ Runa’s heart with his bare hands amidst an intimate battle and took from it a stone of power, the Lunisphere.
At the edge of the gathering were two Sundi figures. Apart from the dissonance of multiple conversations. “Drunk on power.” Kaj, brother to the deposed Sundi King, intoned to Consort Rei Far. “Shame on them and this country to feed off the gullible, the vulnerable. How can we truly be saved when a breed of peasants commands the sky?”
“Not now.” Rei looked carefully around and lowered her tone. “Not with them around.”
Disgusted. “Afraid? They are not gods.”
A figure entered. Sento Algo, father to the heir of the Sundi dynasty. He was in the Sundi ceremonial armor equipped with a muscle cuirass, greaves, and a guige strap for a shield. The absent shield was a traditional gesture of a ruler’s trust in his people. The Shindo discontinued this behavior, for King Mako, son of Han Dario, wore only a traditional set of robes around his guards.
“Remove that miserable expression.” Sento urged. The greys of his beard were silver strings in the sunlight.
Kaj sighed, not daring to catch his brother’s gaze, “I am in mourning.”
Sento’s attention flickered to Rei, to which she replied, “I do not anticipate that we will be sharing drink during the recession.” She nodded to Kaj who remained fixated elsewhere. Lost and looking.
Sento frowned deeply. “Join my wife and daughter.” Dutifully, Rei left.
“I will not tolerate the throne being passed to another generation of Shindo.” Kaj retorted to an unspoken statement. The view of the wide valley and the reddened horizon were interrupted by a distant cloud of airships. “Han Dario should have been the only exception to this empire.”
“You are ill with envy. Mako controls the sky now.”
“What is he without that stone?” The sky finally began to darken as a copper sun fell below the valley. Kaj continued in a tone that suggested he had said it many times before, “And what happens when he wishes to use it against us?”
A low bellow rang through the hall and all conversation stilled. The prompt echoed from a bronze gong situated near the advisors and council members of Mako’s regime.
Sento and Kaj looked to the main wall. There, King Mako gazed deliberately back at the Sundi brothers, the removed rulers of a proud Uru Gala. Sento hesitated on his words. “Do not give him a reason to consider.” He departed to join Mako as the gathering trickled through a succession of open double-doors into the Counselor’s Theatre. Though Kaj denied his fear of the Shindo, he could not help but shudder when he saw the bright light of the Lunisphere displayed inside.
The exhibition for the stone stood alone, centralized on a platform. Its light illuminated the entire theater. Hot blue with a quivering halo, breathing and reacting to those watching it. The open ceiling addressed the first stars of the darkening sky with a frame of rigid cornices and heavily decorated crowns. Circulating the small stage were rows of elevated seating. Stone benches were divided by narrow walkways. The royal families separated and sat within their respective branches. Rei Far sat beside Sento’s wife, Oriana, and eight-year-old daughter, Kana.
Kana wore her dark hair in braids assisted by many gold pins. She fixated on the stone as her mother and Rei exchanged whispers. The whole hall was haunted by faint and wary mutterings not at all like the conversations held outside. Like most others, Kana treated this theater with sacred tenderness.
The Lunisphere was beautiful and dangerous. Kana had wondered many times the destructive nature it had in the hands of Shindo. “Do not stare, ani.” Her mother intruded with a gentle authority. The gold leaves dangling from her ears jingled slightly to the turn of her head. Oriana had the soft look of complacency, despite the tension in the room. Her hair fell against the slow curve of her jaw creating a shadowy crescent beside her sunny eyes. She added with a mild warning, “It sees you.”
Bowing her head slightly, Kana occupied herself with watching Uru Gala’s council members arrange themselves on the front benches, closest to where Mako and Sento would deliver the ceremony. Each councilman wore a sash of a blue thread for the color was treated as a unifying symbol for the colonies of the valley. Starting from the left, the councilmen were Taan Koso, the Liaison for the Royal Air Fleet, Risa and Juno Suna, the sisters leading the resources trade, Kon Okon, Supervisor Technician of Ship and Weapons Manufacturing, Sado Zumi, Captain of the Guard and the only one among the council to wear armor under his blue sash, the final three were associates of the valley’s New World Union; Pons Sulu, Nero Ruzo, and Maron Kunin. Pons was the only figure that was not of the common Argonin race. Kana never fully adjusted to seeing a Karonin in a formal event, for they were once a servant race from the river clans of the South. She was too young to comprehend the alarm this social movement brought to her family nor did she fully grasp the fall of her bloodline and the dying luxuries of their power. Soon, her Uncle Kaj often said, we will be the ones weened out of society.
She scanned across the chamber toward the Shindo family. They wore gallant velvets adorned in rarities, such as carmine jewels and arm bands. A rhythm of constellations glittered from their layers of silver. Among the sea of faces, a pair of dark eyes caught hers. Sai Gao, the youngest of Mako’s children, received her glance at first with interest. Quickly, that curiosity turned to disdain. Kana looked away.
King Mako came to the stage followed by Sento, who was dwarfed by the thin height of the Shindo King. They stood together as an awkward pair, both refusing to admit the incompatible nature of their appearance. Mako extended a long acknowledgement to which Sento bowed in reply. Ceremony of Edemok had officially begun.
Mako allowed a brief silence before beginning:
“And so, the stars say three Sovereigns once ruled the land between the icy shores of the west and the holy north of the Everrain. Of elemental prowess, each divine ruled separately and created the beginnings of life. Born of the fallen moon, the Sovereigns were Ka’ Rukhan, the first body and Father of Beasts, who formed the edges of the sacred salt flats, Ramoria, the first blood and Bearer of Seas and Horizons, and Ka’ Runa, the first breath and Son of Sky, who spoke to the stars and prophesized the demise of the Ancients.”
Mako ascended the small stage and stood beside the Lunisphere. Hands hoovered closely to it. “The stars say many things for the future of Uru Gala. For they have great plans.” His fingertips barely touched the stone and a cold gust entered. A shriek collided against the tight corners raking shivers over the flesh of those not of Shindo. In this moment of the initial demonstration, many wondered how it felt to have the blood of a sky conqueror.
Above, the gaping overhead bore a spectacle of summer constellations that only those of Shindo could listen to. Mako released the stone and the gusts finally died. He peered up and muttered, nearly inaudible, “They say many things.”
A haunting emptiness followed. Mako’s council, the Sundi, and those of close acquaintance exchanged uncertain glances. A mutual anxiety. At last, a shudder of movement spread between the council. The stars were not the only things that had much to say.
Juno Suna and sister, Risa, were the first to brave the tension. “King Mako, we have a limited supply in what you’ve asked in our last session.” Juno started. “All due respect to the order of the divine, we only have enough gas to fuel fleets by cycles. The expedition to the Everrain requires more than simply stock.”
“It’s impossible to fulfill such a journey and to wage war not only on the Eastern clans, but also Ramoria and Ka’Rukhan. We do not have enough information to begin with.” Risa completed. “Stars or no stars. Your divine mission will compromise our resources at home.”
Sado Zumi, Captain of the Guard, expressed a long breath. “Sack the stars. They don’t listen to any of us.”
“You have set priorities outside of Uru Gala.” Taan Koso added, trying to be delicate.
“Do not be foolish, Koso.” Pons retorted. “Have we not all realized the changes our King has made for us?”
“I pity you.” Sado moaned, “Blinded by a predictable political trick to gain support.”
Insulted, Pons pointed back, “Do not dare –
“Is the Everrain even real, my King?” Kaj bellowed, standing from his spot among the Sundi. “Chasing old tales and waging unnecessary war. This is a game of playing god. You have not earned command of this country!” He parted through the seated members of his family who were paralyzed by the outburst.
Sento replied, in a voice empty of life, “Silence yourself.” The whites of his eyes and the stiffness of his jaw struck out against the dark like a pale mask. Terrified.
King Mako assured Sento with a light hand on his shoulder while the other gestured back to Kaj. “Please proceed, brother Algo.”
Kaj scoffed at the authority in Mako’s tone. He stepped close to the stage and stopped at the edge. “Not long ago, we Sundi had things done differently. We are a fierce breed, proud of our abilities as leaders and warriors. We fought alongside our people when the clans of the East moved in. We fought along with Han Shindo that very night of the first Edemok. Now the death of Ka’Runa is twenty years passed. What have we now? A mortal replacement who stands before us flexing his prowess and altering the traditions of our sacred country. Have you not heard the people?”
Sado Zumi allowed a brief smile. “I think it is time the Sundi returned to their place as rulers.” The members of the New World Union gazed at him with disapproval.
Kon Okon finally spoke, “The Sundi are no saviors. They knew what our ships were capable of and your predecessors did nothing with it! Our technology surpasses those of the East and King Mako is the only one that knows what to do with that kind of power. Not only our power, but that of the stone! With Mako we can conquer the remaining Sovereigns. Your late father never made any such gesture!”
At last, the remaining members of the New World Union spoke. Nero Tazo, with a long and exhausted countenance, “It’s not about the people of Uru Gala. It’s not about conquering the East or the primal gods. King Mako has heard the stars and their prophecy warns of a coming. One that would comprise life beyond our greatest fear!”
Maron Kunin added, “The same evil that befell Red Dawn many ages ago.”
Pons Sulu made a fast glance at Sado, “It’s not about the changes he made out of civility. It is about impending doom. We need the blood of Shindo.”
Kaj stepped up to the stage which made Sento noticeably ill. “King Mako has mystified you all with the old tales of Tora-Hidr. Prophecy? These warnings are mere imitations of the surviving Ancients’ texts. They’re myths and bedtime stories.” He pointed to the Lunisphere. “Who isn’t mesmerized by the supernormal thing that this is?” Looking back at Mako, “You’re no ruler. You are a dictator, using your abilities as a sky conqueror to strike fear into those that once served the Sundi.”
The audience stirred instantly when Mako made a motion toward the Lunisphere. A brittle smell, like winter air, rushed. Orianna unknowingly surrounded Kana with her arms. All but those of Shindo were bracing. King Mako noticed this and couldn’t resist delight. “What would you suggest for this red valley?”
Despite the ancients’ warnings in the Tora-Hidr, the people of Uru Gala were not irrationally skeptic or superstitious. There was no living soul in that theater who witnessed the fall of the fifth moon the day of Red Dawn. An unspoken name, known only as the jealous star, brought the demise of the ancients and created the creatures of the East. Though such living fantasies existed, the people of Uru Gala, had greater concern for a man that bore god-like power.
“A vote.” Kaj supplied simply despite the tremble in his lips. Not once did he look away from Mako and the Lunisphere. “A vote.”
Sado Zumi, Juno and Risa Suna, as well as parts of the assembly brightened to the notion. Even Kana peeked between her mother’s arms. Was she about to witness her father’s restoration to the throne?
King Mako quickly approved, “Very well.”
“This is a terrible idea!” Kon Okon retorted. Against the remaining traditions of council, he stood from his place. “The Sundi simply cannot cope with losing control of an empire. Do not entertain the ravings of a man that wouldn’t be king anyhow.”
Sento felt the eyes of the theater upon him. “This is not necessary.”
“My brother was never cowardly! That stone should not determine the longevity of a nation!”
A white cold entered the room, prompting silence. Mako removed his hand from the stone. “If a vote settles this, then let us vote.” A roll of thunder resounded in the distance.
A decision was made on how to conduct the vote. Much of the design was similar to the way of the ancients from the Tora-Hidr. The text often alluded to the methods of selecting leadership in a world allegedly run by primitive magics and technology that didn’t survive the Red Dawn. Together, the council chose representatives from the Sundi and Shindo family as well as those of high-ranking positions which consolidated one vote for separate groups.
Such an intermission was not delicate to the newly set tradition of the Shindo. Formalities and ceremonial gestures dissolved before the unaffected king. His focus remained on the stars while Sento and Oriana whispered.
“Something doesn’t feel right.” Oriana’s eyes fluttered, “He would not settle for a simple election.”
“No way we can return to the way things were after all of this. No matter the score.” Sento mumbled. “That fool! Why did he-
“We can’t change it. Kaj got his way. We need to be ready. If we lose this vote-
Thunder rolled once again over the frantic conversation. Terrified eyes locked onto King Mako who stood far from the stone. It was hard to tell these days which storms were summoned by the Lunisphere.
Clay tabs were passed before the voting parties with surprising diligence. Each representative marked the name of the family he wished to govern the country. It was with unrelenting ease; the gathering managed a civil conclusion of their choice.
In one of the voting groups, ten-year old Sai Gao, the youngest of Shindo, confirmed to a representative as he marked a name into the clay tab, “Father told me that the stars will make me greater than a king. And we all know the stars are never wrong.”
The representative, General Venyr, finished marking the clay tab with a nod. “Do not rely on stars to make you king, young master.” He departed to add the tab to the pile for counting.
The final vote was in. A concrete silence formed. Mako and Sento stood before the tabs laid out in a dignified pile. The king expressed a stoic countenance of a historical calm as Sento, pale as northern rain, announced the final vote. The announcement penetrated the brick-like tension with a meteor-strength. The many of those responsible for the Sundi’s unprecedented victory knew the scandal they just committed – voting against a god.
Sento proceeded, “As decided by those gathered here, the Sundi may resume governance of the Nation of Uru Gala, the sacred red valley.”
Mako’s mien denied despair. For a smile was hidden in his sound expression. His gaze was amiss and, for the few that noticed, the temperature dropped.
The gathering was long dismissed and there were only a handful of members remaining. While the members of the council lingered around the head of the royal Sundi and the powerful Shindo, awaiting the next steps in properly restoring rule to Sento Algo and separating the Shindo from the Lunisphere, Sado Zumi approached Kaj. A satisfied smile, “By the stars, it was a slim count.” The Captain smoothed back his short hair revealing beads of sweat on his forehead. “I wonder who would be willing to step up and take the blame for voting out a man of such power.”
Kaj scanned the now empty theater. “The vote was that slim?”
With an excited whisper he answered, “By one.”
At the edge of his periphery, Kaj found young Kana shrinking under the height of the gracefully deposed Mako of Shindo. A nervousness seized him when he saw Kana’s pale worry as the conqueror of skies knelt down to her.
“Excuse me.” Kaj politely pushed past the Captain of the Guard who turned to see the situation that was transpiring. Kaj strode with agile haste for Oriana and the newly restored King Sento were not near enough to notice their only kin was astray.
He was soon upon the unusual discourse and with a curt and gentle tug he pulled Kana to him and noticed she was trembling. “I apologize, brother of Shindo. She is exceptionally interested in the events that happened tonight.”
“As is my son.” He looked back to Sai Gao, a youth of dark hair who had an overtly concerned expression. His boyish face was wrought with doubt and uncertainty. Mako made a final glimpse to the now princess of Uru Gala and departed.
With the former king out of hearing distance, Kaj scooped Kana into his arms and whispered to her, “Ani, what did he say?”
Kaj was gentle and he gave her room to adjust against his chest. Her tiny gold pins prickled his neck as she moved. Kana hesitated and said hollowly into his ear, “Time will come again for Shindo. There’ll be a new king, greater than any known, and the stars are never wrong.”
The sky above was soon covered by rain clouds. Lightning reached across and thunder rang. The ceremony of Edemok had forever changed.