Ashes of an Empire

Ashes of an Empire

A Story by Seth Armstrong
"

This is a love story.

"

Ashes of an Empire

     The ground was arid and scorched. Fissures snaked along the earth like rivers used to in the fertile valley this once was; but now the green had died, and the beauty along with it. This once-great empire of splendor and love had been rendered a dark valley of ruins and desolation where only vestiges of what had once been now remained, and were fading.

     The air was stifling and oppressive over all things. It hung like a humid blanket over the land, searing everything with a heat so thick and insufferable that it became travail merely to move. A terrible wind whistled through the valley, but it brought no relief from the scorching calidity; it blew like the breath of a dragon -- torrid and torturous. The wind kicked up storms of seared dust and debris that raced across the land like tornadoes of fire. The cloying calidity held dominion over all, and all felt its wrath.

     The sky was concealed by a battalion of tenebrific clouds casting their caliginous shadows over the valley below. They rolled and churned with enmity, and they bellowed a cacophonous salvo of thunder. The valley was so dim it was nearly aphotic, and the darkness was combated by only the fires that sought to envelop all that remained of the empire and the golden flashes of lightning that singed and bruised all that they touched. These forces lit the world and battled for dominance; and the valley was illuminated by a perpetual flickering of gold against a shimmering orange and red blanket cast by conflagrations that danced at the behest of the fiery wind over the remnants of the fallen kingdom.

     In this defiled dale, one figure trudged through the stifling, hostile world. His frame was bent and nearly broken, held together only by a fading but obdurate spark of tenacity. His clothes were ripped and tattered. His skin was parched and cracking. His muscles were malnourished and thus weak, bordering on atrophy; and it took nearly all the strength he could muster to force his legs to move. The storms of this hellish land had daubed his battered frame with ash and grime; his face had been coated beyond recognition, and was only discernable by the fire that blazed behind his eyes.

     This fire that glittered and danced in his irises served as the only indication that he still lived; all else suggested him to be some form of a tortured specter or forgotten ghost that had been sentenced to and abandoned in this vile world; but he was alive, and he had come here -- come back -- by his own volition.

     He came upon the fallen kingdom slowly, as each step was a feat nearly unimaginable. The wind whipped wildly around his haggard body, its fiery breath beating him back, as if it were some sentinel set by his subconscious as a warning imploring him to turn back; but he was obstinate, and he wouldn’t turn back -- he couldn’t turn back. The wind’s boiling breath only fueled the flickering flames that forced him forward; he stamped down on the arid land with the might left within him and became unassailable. The wind could not allay his passion, and, although it staggered him, it could not halt him -- and he limped on.

     The calidity beset him heavily -- and heavier still with each step he neared the fires. His feet shook and staggered over broken stones that once marked the paved roads of his empire. The crumbled ruins and heaps of debris lay where there were once works of great construction: castles, temples, fountains, monuments, statues, wonders, art -- all testaments of love and commitment, left to fade in an empire that was vulnerable and forgotten. The passion that once filled and fueled it had been rendered quiescent; and with this lull it was ousted by petty jealousy and bickering; and with this coup came destruction; and with this destruction came desolation, and abandonment.

     His eyes saw not merely the emaciated skeleton that lay around him, but also images -- memories -- that flickered and flashed in his mind, quick but powerful -- like the lightning that lit the valley and smote the ground. He saw this empire as it should be -- as it once was. He saw it as it was before his power became his weapon, before his pettiness became his passion, before he saw his Queen as his property -- before he sought to perfect, which led him to destroy.

     He stumbled on, his strength failing as he beheld once more the land he destroyed. His heart constricted, and his body went numb. The smoke had made it difficult to breathe; but his shame made it nearly impossible. He charged himself for this blight, and rightfully so; but as he lamented over his defiled domain, he sought to restore -- to rebuild; and he sought for his Queen. He knew how he had failed Her; so he knew how he could keep Her, and rebuild their fallen empire.

     He called for Her, but the smoke lay like a thick, syrupy veil that muffled his cries and diluted their vigor. His legs moved slowly, and with great effort; but they were impassioned by the depth and fervor of his love, and they trudged on.

     He sought for his former abode -- for their sanctuary; and the elements beset him along the way. The clouds roared, and elicited a bombastic barrage of thunder so loud it was deafening. The lightning flashed brighter and faster, blinding him, and striking the ground so violently it exhumed whatever lay beneath in a spate of shattering explosions that spewed shrapnel through the air. The wind assailed him once more, blowing him back as best it could. The air grew warmer as the wind and the fires burned brighter, and hotter. The calidity burned and branded his skin, and he cried out in pain; but he was not defeated.

     He marched on.

     The sanctuary’s silhouette arose in the distance. The elements beset him harder, but the sight of this sacrosanct remnant crashed into him, leaving him awash in his tenacity, and he marched on through the smoke. As he approached and saw clearer, he found the sanctuary still intact -- for although he could destroy his realm, he could not dilute their love.

     As the sanctuary rose before him, he saw another silhouette rise upon its steps -- and as it came clearer, it become unmistakable: its beauty was unmatched by anyone but his Queen.

     He rushed forward even harder as the hellish hostilities swirled around him; but nothing could stop him from reaching his Queen. She made no move; but he reached forward, and he called out to Her.

     He ran for Her as She called out to him. Her voice was smooth and clear, but unintelligible, and muffled -- and far away. He kept running, but it seemed as though the distance between them was growing, not waning. Panicked, he cried out to Her, imploring Her to come back -- to run toward him.

     Her eyes met his, and She frowned.

     Then he burst through the smoke, and the illusion died; and he beheld the sanctuary as it truly was: crumbling; and his Queen was not there.

     The sanctuary was in disrepair -- only half-built; for although he could hold onto his love, he could not force Her to hold on to Hers.

     His Queen was not there, and She would never come back.

     His Queen was gone forever; and he had killed Her. 

© 2018 Seth Armstrong


Author's Note

Seth Armstrong
There's no dialogue in this, so any quotation marks are dashes that Writer's Cafe won't register. Please warn me about them so I can fix them, if I missed any.

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Added on February 3, 2017
Last Updated on February 27, 2018
Tags: an, of, ashes, love, empire, ruins, fire, calidity, desolation, destruction, fallen, kingdom, king, queen, repentence