Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Great (07/06/06)
TITLE: And Grace
By Maxx .
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The Emperor placed his hands on the sill, leaning forward until his face was near the heated glass. Phosphorescent explosions, distant now, painted him, glinting off polished armor. The incursion had been swift, predictably successful. He inhaled, long and slow, as if indulging in the exotic sent of a foreign lover. The rumble of lustful enjoyment reverberated in his body. “I destroy worlds.”
Ricca lurched and stared. Incandescent red licked across the room. “I…” He trembled, young palms clutching straggled hair.
Looking back, the Emperor drew his grin upward, lips twisted. Pinpoint incarnations of flame accentuated eyes black as pitch. “No.” The wavering light wove about the furrows of his temples. “Systems. Entire star systems.” He turned. “Do you believe me, boy?”
“Y—yes.” Ricca blinked between the towering invader and the roiling plumes that engulfed his homeland. “Yes, my…” He swallowed. “…Lord.”
“You’re frightened.” The Emperor stepped from the pane. “Good.” His tone was curdled. “You should be.” He clasped the child’s arm, gloved hand gouging, lifting. “I’ve killed trillions.”
The Emperor thrust Ricca away. “Because I can!” He swore, words echoing about the empty hall, underscored by the sound of indistinct screams. The seal on his breastplate rose and fell as the cadence of his breath increased. “I can, and do.”
Ricca tumbled into a heap against the pocked and shattered wall. The floor was dark there, stained with blood where his father had been tortured, murdered. Never broken.
The man exhaled. “I wasn’t much older than you when my parents were assassinated.” The edges of his words became hazy. He reached. “I understand.”
Ricca’s throat burned. “You killed my…”
The Emperor swung, open handed, connecting on the boy’s cheek. “Anyone that stands in my way! Anyone!” His eyes narrowed. “Don‘t forget.”
Ricca raised his arms, falling away, his voice a whispered mutter. “I can’t. No good. No good from this.” He smudged welling tears.
“You see me as a monster, hmm?” The Emperor straightened, shoulders squared, chin lifted. “War, destruction. These things aren’t simply the purview of the damned. Your God’s a warrior, yes?” He moved near. “A lifetime of combat. All I comprehend.” He swallowed, gaze darting. “I never had children.”
The boy bit his lip, muscles quaking. Memories of his father shuffled in the murk. A sob tore through struggling lungs.
The Emperor‘s countenance grayed. He spun, robe flowing behind in the pulsating dim. “Quiet!” He thrust a damning finger across the gap. “I’ll staple your throat shut.” Veins on his brow distended. “I abide no tears in battle or home.”
Ricca lifted the tunic, pressing it to his face, desperate prayers arcing from ingrained faith. “Strength, trust, promise.”
“You judge me?” The Emperor growled, dragging him to the window. “Your devout race.” He spit with escalating thunder. “Like the weak everywhere, always babbling about Divine retribution. Eternal justice.” The corner of his mouth twitched.
“And grace.” Ricca choked.
Gloved hands pressed the young frame tighter. “See your world? That’s what I do. I’m The Mighty Sword. Emperor of all. Who are you to convict me?” He squeezed until his fingers shook. “I’ve brought down races, realms you never knew existed, alliances spanning galaxies. And you dare condemn me?”
“No, no. Save you.”
The Emperor released his grip and unsheathed his dagger.
Ricca collapsed, breath gone.
“Do you realize what it’s like to have a billion legions at your command?” The Emperor paced. “Kings kneeling?” With a clenched fist he beat against his armor, voice rising to a shout. “I’m the greatest warrior in history! The most powerful ruler of all time! The expanse of the universe cowers before me! Me! Me!” He circled, teeth bared, chest swollen as he glared toward heaven. “I’ve taken it all! Everything! There’s nothing left to conquer…” He jabbed the dagger at the flaming city as laughter reeled from him in spasms, his body glazed by the luminous conflagration. “Nothing left…”
The boy struggled to his knees as the room slipped into stillness.
“And when I die…” The Emperor’s voice sank, lost in the folds of purple about his collar. “…meaningless.” The dagger fell, clattering across the tainted marble.
Ricca stood. “Meaning comes from hope. There’s something greater.”
The Emperor raised his brow, extending his hand.
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