The King is Dead
By JJ Rushmore
The man known as the Elephant, if man he was, crept through the old city. Thick clouds obscured the planet’s two moons, deepening the nighttime shadows. Arriving at the castle wall, he paused at an ancient door and knocked twice, then thrice more. Bolts rattled, and the wooden portal creaked inward.
The hooded figure squeezed his enormous bulk through the opening. The Elephant had paid the guard generously for his treachery—but the unfortunate would never live to spend his blood money. With little effort and no remorse, he snapped the guard’s neck. He ignored the corpse as it slumped to the floor.
The Elephant raised a hand-held device, and a beam of red light illuminated the dark and musty corridor. He proceeded ahead, navigating the labyrinthine passageways. The map he had memorized led him to the royal quarters.
A pair of guards warily watched his approach. The floor-length robe covering his corpulent girth concealed his legs, giving them the impression of a large sphere draped in silk floating across the cobblestones. Terror quickly replaced the guards’ unease when they recognized the face on the gliding figure.
For the Elephant had been dubbed not only for his size, but also for his elongated proboscis, a birth defect which worsened with age. After four decades, his nose dangled below his chin. Anyone seeing his face would know him immediately. Anyone would know they had met the planet’s most notorious assassin.
The moment the guards realized their peril was all the Elephant needed. He adjusted his weapon and fired two beams of green light, enough to stun but not kill.
Approaching the King’s bedchamber, he adjusted his weapon to its highest setting and pounded on the door.
“Your Highness,” he bellowed. “We have a crisis.” Without waiting, he burst into the room.
Eliminate the most serious threat first.
The King leapt from his bed and reached for his weapon, but was too late. His last breath sighed through the gaping hole in his chest as a purple beam of energy passed completely through. The tapestry behind him burst into flames and the reek of burning flesh filled the chamber.
A furious scream caused the assassin to turn. The Queen had grabbed her broadsword, a short but lethal weapon. She came from a race of warriors, and he expected her to fight.
She deflected his first beam with her gleaming sword, polished to mirror brightness. The queen poised the weapon vertically, holding the hilt with both hands, the wide blade covering one eye, leaving one exposed, blazing in hate.
He fired again, and again she blocked it. This time the light beam reflected off her sword and back at her attacker. The pulse of purple energy bounced off the Elephant’s body, burning a hole in his garment, but otherwise leaving him unharmed. The Queen’s puzzled look turned to surprise as his third shot sliced her arm off at the shoulder, and her sword clattered to the stone floor. The final beam cut her in two.
Now for the children.
* * *
The metallic band on Corson’s wrist buzzed angrily. He reined in his mount to a standstill, as did his two companions. He stared at the tiny screen and tensed. Two of the five gold lights flashed red. Gold for the living royals. Blinking red for the dead. As he watched, another golden light winked out and flashed scarlet.
His two teenage charges had identical wristbands. Their faces paled with the realization that the King and Queen were dead. Not only were their parents gone, but their older brother the crown prince was dead as well.
Corson focused on their situation. “Your Highness. Princess. You are in great peril. We must seek safety.”
The boy gripped the reins of his mount. Upon the death of his father and of his older brother the crown prince, the sixteen-year-old lad before him had become King.
“What do you advise, Corson?”
He had only one answer. They were outside the city walls, returning from a night of hunting. If they left the capital city, the kingdom would succumb to anarchy, and the planet would lose its position in the galaxy.
“We must speed to the Tower. To the Crown Room.”
The boy-king nodded. “The Crown is the power,” he said, repeating one-half the ancient mantra.
The young King’s tow-headed sister wiped a tear from each eye. With lips quivering, she took a deep breath. “The Crown is the power,” she said.
Corson wheeled his mount and galloped to the west wall, away from the main gate. The two youngsters followed.
* * *
The trio emerged from the secret passage behind a set of gold-fringed drapes. Corson silenced the two young royals with a gesture. He peeked around the draperies and confirmed they were alone.
“Let us seize the Crown and depart,” the young King whispered.
Corson was about to agree when heavy footsteps approached. “Remain here until it is safe,” he ordered.
As their mentor and trainer, Corson had been used to instructing them in the ways of combat and military strategy. He realized with a shock he could no longer issue commands to the young King. If they survived the night, he would beg the King’s forgiveness.
He stepped from behind the curtains, strode into the circular room, and stood in front of a sparkling display case. The Iridium Crown glowed in the dimness, the source of the kingdom’s power.
The main doors slammed open and the Elephant marched into the room.
“I might have known,” Corson said. “This treason has your stench all over it.”
“It’s the smell of victory,” the large man replied. “Stand aside, Corson.”
Corson remained impassive. “You’ve gained weight,” he said.
The Elephant raised his eyebrows. “Is that all you can say?”
I’m surprised,” Corson said, and shrugged. “I would’ve thought by now your snout would interfere with eating. I expected you to be leaner.”
The Elephant jeered at the smaller man, “You always were a smart-mouthed brat. Let’s see if your gibes help you now.” He raised his weapon and pressed a button.
“The Crown’s power supersedes your tech, Elaph. Only the old ways work in the Tower.” Corson aimed an ancient mechanical device at the large man and pulled the trigger. The weapon roared, and a projectile ricocheted off the large man’s body. Frowning, Corson fired twice more, with the same result.
“Osmium armor!” he exclaimed. “So it’s not all fat. You always were a cheat.”
Elaph scoffed “And you were always a weakling. You never bested me when we were children. What makes you think you can do so now?”
“I have right on my side,” he said.
Elaph sneered. “That won’t save you this night. Time to die, Little Brother.” He launched himself at Corson.
Corson lashed out with his sword, but it clanked uselessly against the Elephant’s impervious armor. The large man wrapped his massive arms around his smaller sibling and squeezed. Corson squirmed hopelessly in his grasp as breathing became difficult.
A screeching blonde banshee streaked in and dove at the Elephant’s legs, knife flashing in her hand. The large man grunted and fell to one knee.
The red-headed boy-king attacked from above.
Corson was eye-to-eye with his brother when the young King sliced the Elephant’s throat with his razor-sharp dagger. Elaph growled, gurgled, and expired. Corson, drenched in his sibling’s blood, watched the light fade from his brother’s eyes as the larger man’s grip relaxed, and they both slid to the floor.
The princess helped Corson to his feet, her eyes bright with exhilaration.
“I remember telling you to stay behind the curtain,” he croaked.
“We thought of it more like a suggestion,” she said. “You always taught us to think for ourselves.”
Shattering glass echoed throughout the Tower. Corson turned to see the young King reach into the display case for the Crown and place it on his head.
Footsteps thundered up the stairway. A phalanx of guards charged into the room, swords to the ready. The King, Corson, and the princess prepared themselves for battle.
“The King is dead!” announced the group’s leader. “We’re here to retrieve the Crown.”
Corson pointed at the boy-king, whose whole body glowed with the power of the Iridium Crown. “Long live the King!” he said.
“The Crown holds the power…” the princess intoned, pointing her sword at the King.
The leader of the guards completed the age-old chant. “…and the King wears the Crown.”
In unison, the guards bent to one knee and pointed their swords at the King. “The Crown holds the power, and the King wears the crown,” they repeated with one voice.
The young King raised his sword. “We shall re-take the castle,” he vowed, “We shall defend The kingdom!” He turned to his former mentor. “Corson. You are now captain of the guards. We shall lead these men together.”
Corson regarded his pupil and smiled.
The King is dead, he thought. Long live the King.
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