The Sruvian Templex

Chapter 1

New Sorlahn

The late evening sun bathed Naulfa’s buildings in warm ocher hues, and cast long shadows over the crowded streets. This evening, Naulfa’s marketplace rivaled the once-bustling avenues of Sorlahn, but that hadn’t always been the case. Just six short months ago, the streets of Naulfa were comparable to any middle-size city to be found within the Var Dominion.

Then came the fall of Sorlahn, the greatest city in the world. It was the crux of civilization and commerce, lap of Var’s nobility, and home of the splendorous royal palace.

Those displaced by the destruction of the ill-fated city sought refuge in Naulfa, bringing with them the flair and culture of Sorlahn. Never again would Naulfa be just another city, for it was slated to be the next shining star of the Var Dominion: New Sorlahn.

Within the halls of Naulfa’s great cathedral, in which were stored many of the artifacts rescued from the royal palace, the last rays of sunlight shone through the tall vaulted windows, illuminating a flattering statue of Var’s king, Yonchobar Wrenlag IV. Carved from white marble, it depicted the monarch with scepter in hand, his huge bulbous snout held high, and a fishbowl cradled within his crown.

Seated at a large table not far from his marble counterpart, the real King Yonchobar sneezed loudly, the sound echoing through the spacious halls of the cathedral. Promptly an attendant dabbed the king’s snout with a silken kerchief while another servant doused him in billowing tufts of therapeutic fumes.

“Away!” growled the annoyed king as he pushed the incense-burning man, nearly knocking him to the polished granite floor. “Oaf! Are you trying to smother me?” Then he let go another sneeze, louder than the first, which sent water splashing from the fishbowl onto his snout. The fumes seemed to do nothing to ease his suffering. His eyes watered, his nose ran, and his head felt like it was packed with cotton. For the past six months he’d lived in complete misery.

All because of Ravma Sruvius.

The mere thought of Sruvius brought a sneer to Yonchobar’s lips. His only consolation was in knowing that Sruvius was dead. His demise, unfortunately, had come with the destruction of Sorlahn and the very tower that, with its air-pressure-controlled elevator system, had eased the king’s chronic sinus condition. The brilliant minds who had engineered it—the Sruvius family—were no longer welcome members of Sorlahn’s society. Certainly, they would never obtain the status they had previously held, or contribute their scientific knowledge to Var. The price had been dear, but at least the world was rid of that insufferable abomination.

After a loud snort followed by a heavy sigh, King Yonchobar glanced with watery eyes around the table at the small group of engineers, generals, and advisors—the architects of New Sorlahn. “How are the plans for the palace coming along?” he asked in a thick, nasal voice.

“Nicely, Sire,” replied one of Yonchobar’s generals, a tall man with a drawn face and silver goatee. From a buckskin tube, he produced a large roll of parchment. “I have here the latest plans …” He laid the scroll before the king, unrolling it. The schematics revealed were detailed and intricate. “For your perusal, Sire.”

The king pored over the plans, looking down his snout at it, feigning interest and nodding, when, in fact, he had no idea what he was looking at. After a few minutes, he tapped his finger on part of the drawing that represented a large effluent tank. “My royal chamber, I’m assuming, shall be hoisted by an elevating machine as it was in my palace in Sorlahn?”

Farley, a burly man with pink skin and curly red hair, was the engineer in charge of overseeing the plans. He cleared his throat, knitting his thin blonde eyebrows. “We’re working on that, Your Majesty.”

Yonchobar didn’t like the traces of doubt he heard in Farley’s tone. With his chronic sinus condition, the one thing he insisted on was the elevator system. “You don’t foresee any problems with the elevator, do you?” he asked, dourly.

“We are working on it, Sire,” said Farley, fidgeting in his seat. “We’ve got the … er … cable system pretty well figured out, but—”

The king glowered darkly at him, “Yes?”

Farley looked flushed. “Well, Sire … we’ve been encountering some difficulties.”

“With what? What could possibly be so difficult about making a simple elevator?”

“It’s the electric motor that drives the elevator, Sire. Only a Sruvius can understand—”

The king’s horse-like nostrils flared as he bellowed, “You will not speak that name in my presence! Do you hear! We do not need them! We never have! This city will be everything Sorlahn was—nay, greater—without their help!”

After a moment of tense silence he snarled, “How is it that my engineers—considered to be the finest in the world—cannot understand a simple thing like an electric motor!” He slammed his open hand on the parchment and threw it across the table. “I’m dealing with idiots!”

The General with the silver goatee smoothed the parchment and began rolling it up.

“I expect your engineers,” Yonchobar spoke the word mockingly with a sneer, “to have the kinks worked out of that elevator by the end of this week!” He leaned back, narrowing his eyes as he added slowly, “—Or heads will roll.”

The king would have his elevator even if it meant replacing every man on his staff. New Sorlahn would be every bit as magnificent as its namesake, without the help of a single Sruvius. His father had been one of the greatest kings the world had ever known, and so it would be with him. The construction of New Sorlahn was his only chance at redemption, the shining light at the end of a dark tunnel, and he refused to let anything ruin that dream. He would one day achieve greatness. As it stood, he considered himself to be an impressive example of royalty. At the very least, he had rid the world of Ravma Sruvius, something his father had failed to do.

By now the sun had set and an indigo sky showed through the cathedral windows. The room, bathed in a warm glow supplied by a number of wall sconces, fell silent while at the head of the table, King Yonchobar seethed.

Casting menacing glances at the men seated at his table, the king growled, “If you cannot build my city, then I shall find someone who can!” With that, he pounded his fist once more upon the table, but this time the sound not only echoed off the walls, but seemed to penetrate the very floor of the cathedral, where it persisted like rolling thunder.

As he drew his next breath to speak, the low rumble grew louder beneath the stone floor, culminating in a distinct, palpable tremble. Yonchobar looked around curiously, the quick movements of his head causing his goldfish to bob in the waves.

The sound grew steadily louder, the vibration tingling the soles of Yonchobar’s feet. The king leaped from his chair as the table began to rattle and clatter across the floor. Someone cried, “Earthquake!” and they all sprang from their seats and joined the king along the rear wall.

Shouts came from the streets as the trembling intensified.

From outside came a loud rumble and crash, as of a building collapsing. Several stained-glass windows imploded, raining strips of lead and shards of glass onto the cathedral floor.

There was the sound of screams and running feet, and clouds of dust came wafting through the broken windows. Outside, huge slabs torn from buildings pounded the streets below.

On the far side of the cathedral, the massive oak doors swung open and crowds of people poured in, seeking refuge. Through the open door, Yonchobar caught a glimpse of annihilation and bedlam.

As abruptly as it had begun, the quaking ceased. The roar faded into a rumbling echo. Naulfa had fallen into ruin; the only building left standing was the cathedral.

Everyone in the room stood in rapt anticipation of an aftershock, but the only sound that could be heard was an occasional whimper or a cough brought on by the clouds of dust.

After what seemed like an eternity, the silence was suddenly broken by a deafening crack as the floor in the center of the room, near the statue of the king, heaved as though struck from below by a mighty hammer. Although the statue did not topple, its head broke off at the neck and fell to the floor with a heavy thud.

Everyone turned apprehensive eyes to the mound in the center of the room where the granite floor had buckled. Light from a fire burning outside filtered through one of the remaining stained-glass windows, casting a pulsating glow and eerie shadows on the surreal scene.

Slowly, one of the broken slabs lifted. In the blackness beneath the slab something moved. King Yonchobar let out a thin whine as he backed more tightly against the wall.

Like a pale gray wave, a flood of zankytes—the insect-like creatures that Ravma Sruvius had commanded to do his bidding—burst from the rift and spilled into the room.

There were screams of terror as the crowds fled back out into the streets, choosing the chaos outside over the monstrous, undulating carpet of strange insects. King Yonchobar and his men were left behind, trapped by the rushing tide that quickly spread to cover the width of the cathedral floor.

The whimpering king cowered in the corner and water splashed from the fishbowl onto the horn at the end of his snout.

Acting in perfect unison, as if controlled by a single mind, the sea of zankytes suddenly changed direction and flowed toward the headless statue of King Yonchobar. The king watched as the zankytes leaped upon the statue. Minute arcs of electricity, blue and shimmering, sprang from their tiny fingertips where they touched the statue, and the marble was somehow transformed and became malleable as clay in their hands. Before long the entire statue was covered in a writhing blanket of zankytes.

The men watched with awe as the mass gradually reshaped itself from an upright position to a much more squat, hunched form, as though they had somehow bent the marble statue at the waist.

“What are they doing?” Yonchobar murmured fretfully as he watched the swarm defile his image. Zankytes had a natural ability to transform matter at the most fundamental level. They could turn anything into anything. With trepidation, the king recalled how they had used this amazing ability to construct the giant Bombasticus out of nothing more than river water and cobwebs. Yet the zankytes seemed to lack the intelligence to put their power to practical use—that is, unless someone like Sruvius was controlling them.

Then, as quickly as they had appeared, the zankytes abandoned the statue and retreated into the hole in the floor. After the last of them filed into the cavity, they lowered the slab into its original position and sealed all the cracks so perfectly that even the closest inspection would fail to reveal any trace that they had ever been there.

With absolute horror, King Yonchobar beheld the only trace the swarm had left behind: a statue that once bore his image, but had been transformed into the countenance he had feared and hated above all others—that of Ravma Sruvius.

But the thing that struck him with terror and plunged his spirit into despair was not the image of Sruvius, nor what the king’s disembodied head lying at its feet symbolized, but rather the two words that the swarm of zankytes had expertly carved into the statue’s base. They read: “I LIVE.”

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