Interlude: Conjuring up Nemesis

This is a mini-prologue of sorts, a tidied-up version of a scene I originally wrote (and posted) years ago. Enjoy!


The Vermilion Empire has endured for hundreds of years.

But now, its neighbours grow restive, its servants corrupt.

The emperor lies dying. He has no heir.

There is one man, Governor Kho, acceptable to all.

If anything should happen to him…

The Scholar Tian Kizo

Tian Kizo met the spirit in a phantasmal desert, under a blazing hot sun. Around them lay the ruins of battle: swords and bows and guns, discarded shirts of mail. Kizo reeled: from the heat, from tension and excitement, from the vision he had just seen. Then the spirit spoke, and he focused.

“You’ve seen my story,” the spirit — Artorius, that was his name — said. “Your turn. What do you want of me?”

“Justice.” For all Kizo’s rehearsal, all his careful thought, the words came tumbling out. “My son is dead. Murdered. I’m no warrior — but you are.”

“You have no magistrates in your empire?”

“Hah!” It was a short, bitter laugh. “None who would arrest the greatest power in the land.”

“Ah.” That was all Artorius said. He folded one arm across his chest, the fingers of the other tapping on the hilt of his sword.

“Please. Help me.” Kizo could hear the desperation in his voice. “You ended your mortal days when you were betrayed. Murdered. Your wife, too. You must know how I feel. Don’t you want to deliver justice?”

“Justice.” Artorius stretched out the word. “At what price? The world is not a fairy tale.”

“If it were, my son would be alive!”

Artorius held up a hand. “Listen to me. What will happen if I kill your empire’s greatest lord?”

Kizo breathed deeply. He had to stay calm, convince the spirit with his logic. “I have a plan. I can summon another spirit — the Phoenix Prince, the founder of the empire. No matter if this, this man dies — the people can rally to the Prince.”

Artorius gazed into the distance. Kizo felt sick. He could not tell what Artorius was thinking, not under that hard veteran’s mask. This was his best chance, his only chance. To lose it now…

“The world is not a fairy tale,” Artorius repeated. “I’ll be damned if I make it worse. All right, I’ll help you. And the name of this man I should kill?”

Let Kizo never again look forward so much to another man’s death… “Governor Kho.”