Don’t have the room in the website navigation for “short stories”, so I’ve included this supplemental piece created for incarnate games here in the novel section. Hope you enjoy. (Be sure to check out the premiere game by incarnate, Ascended Kings.)
The Burning of the Second Rose
A short story from the Ascended Kings universe, by Nick Macari
It is said that every newborn carries a touch of Omega on their chest. For what other force in the universe can wash away our sins and failings, but the triumphs of our beloved offspring.
Of course, not every child grows to adulthood with the best of intentions. Such is the gamble of parenthood.
A risk taken by the king and queen of Kynazarr not once, but twice, offering three chances of a future queen of Kynazarr. Their youngest daughter of the Red City, Istar, taken far before her time. Leaving one of the roses, the twin sisters of Kynazarr, as sole heir to the great Kynazari Empire.
Though to look at them together now, sharing and caring for one another as close as any sisters, anywhere… such was not always the case. There are shadows to the bright light of their relationship. A dark, forgotten past that troubles my old mind.
In the beginning, before the accident things were quite different. If I close my eyes I can still see them. Two thirteen-year-old visions of beauty. Kalshiera, sword fighting with the older boys, more than holding her own. Iliza watching from the side, crafting intricate patterns of beads and colors on her sister’s second shield.
Heartfelt craftwork shaved off by a single swipe of Kalshiera’s metal saber. A maneuver followed by a venomous stare and callous words. “The Red City is the future of Empyrnea, sister. Your childish, petty imaginations project only weakness—not the respect and admiration suited to us.”
A scene played out in similar fashion many times. Kalshiera always lashing out full of bitter spitefulness to her own flesh and blood, born only seconds later. A sister too humble and innocent to ever stand up for herself… to confront and challenge the beloved Golden Rose of Kynazarr.
Of course, this all changed after the accident. As relationships often do after tragedy. True, no one knows for certain what really took place that fateful day, save the children involved. But if we are to believe the record of the court hearings that followed—which I have no reason to doubt—we can surmise the events as they unfolded;
Kalshiera set off with a group of cadets from the Red City army, intent on practicing for final martial tests. As children often do, the group ventured to places unwarranted. In this case, the lower levels of the foundry beneath the cities main industrial center.
Here the children split into two groups. A wargame of sorts, with the first group to dispatch every member of the other declared victor. None aware that watching from the shadows, a young inquisitive girl wishing to be her sister’s equal followed.
Late in the day, far below Kynazarr, among the massive cauldrons and elevated rivers of molten metal, Kalshiera stood guard on a narrow iron walkway. Holding her sword at the ready, against a backdrop of dripping red metal and shooting embers, Kalshiera gazed out across the foundry below her.
She peered through the bright flames and flickering shadows, verifying every human movement in sight. Assuring herself such motions came not from a member of the opposing team, but from the numerous metal workers engaged in their craft.
Standing in the middle of the elevated walkway, high above the foundry floor, the princess of Kynazarr grew overconfident in her duty. She stood oblivious to the three boys as they lowered themselves down from an even higher archway and silently approached from behind.
A danger not lost to Iliza, crouched alongside a massive iron pipe on a lower walkway. Stepping out from the concealment of the pipe, Iliza screamed to her sister. Her voice immediately swallowed by the rumblings of the foundry.
The king’s daughter knew the only way to warn her sister, was to somehow reach her before the boys. She raced across the walkway towards a ladder at the far end, as fast as her feet would carry her. A sudden movement which drew the eyes of the boys above.
With a fearless leap, one of the older boys dropped to Iliza’s level. His crashing weight shook the entire walkway beneath their feet throwing Iliza against the warm metal rail. Neither boy, nor girl noticing one of the few bolts holding the walkway to the wall, snapping in half.
The boy approached Iliza with a grin. “Keep quiet princess. Your sister needs to earn her right to train with us.”
Iliza turned up and shouted with both hands clasped around her mouth. Her cry still lost within the noises of the foundry. Seeing Iliza disregard his command, the boy rushed forward swinging his blade.
Though she had no real knowledge of swordplay and had only taken the weapon to blend in with the others, the Kynazari princess threw up her blade in defense. As quickly as the steel went up, it snapped painfully from her grasp. A second later splashing tip down in a vat of molten metal far below. With a burst of flame the blade vanished from view.
Turning her attention upward once more, Iliza found the two boys just steps from her unsuspecting sister. Completely ignoring the boy before her, the princess screamed out again. The boy’s brow furrowed at Iliza’s outburst. “Quiet! I won’t let you ruin the game.”
With a hasty shove, Iliza fell to the slotted iron floor. The abruptness of her fall pulling the unseen broken bolt free of the wall.
Showing little concern for her own welfare, Iliza crawled backwards on her hands and shouted out yet again. This time however, by luck and chance, the apparatus of the foundry paused in such a fashion as to allow her cry to echo out among the raised walkways.
Rushing to the opposite railing, Kalshiera saw the older boy hovering over her sister. Iliza on her back, one hand up to protect her face. The boy’s sword held high, behind his head, threatening to strike. “If you weren’t the king’s daughter, I’d give you a solid lashing.”
The chaotic environment of the foundry instantly disappeared. Darkness rose up around the perimeter of Kalshiera’s vision, leaving only the lower walkway and her sister in view. The Golden Rose struggled to assess whether her sister was in genuine danger. A moment of distraction allowing two sword tips to find their way into Kalshiera’s back.
The jolt of discomfort and surprise swung the princess around before the two smiling boys. Her face drawn in total shock and disbelief. “So much for the Golden Rose of Kynazarr!” one of the boys exclaimed triumphantly.
The king’s daughter boiled with anger. She had been taken out of the game fairly… by Iliza’s hand. Iliza and her meddling. Kalshiera’s attention flew back to her sister, met by the third boy looking up at his companions with a raised arm and smile.
Without warning, Kalshiera hurled both feet over the rail. Landing on the broken platform with a tremendous clamor, the iron walkway split in half and swung away from the wall. All three children fumbled for their balance. The boy and Iliza gasped in fear of the entire walkway collapsing.
Though it swayed back and forth in an unnerving manner, to everyone’s relief the iron platform held. Seemingly unconcerned by their unsteady footing, Kalshiera stomped over towards the boy and her sister. The boy spun around to meet Kalshiera with his blade outstretched. “You’re out!” he shouted with a snarl.
The king’s daughter struck out with two blindingly fast blows. The first knocking the boy’s blade to the side, the second slapping him on the wrist. The force of the strike sending the sword to his feet.
At the sight of Kalshiera’s eyes flickering with rage, the boy retreated. He pushed behind Iliza, glancing to his companions above. The other two boys threw up their arms, motioning him upward. “Come on, leave them. She’s out of the game, there are only two left!” Without pause to retrieve his blade, the boy rushed up the ladder leaving the sisters behind.
“Complete and utterly worthless!” cried Kalshiera. Iliza looked up, stunned at her sister’s hostility.
“I just wanted to help. I was trying to warn you.”
“That’s your problem Iliza, you’re always trying… and you never do. You just get in the way. If you really want to help, then you should just disappear!”
Iliza stared at the metal platform, unable to form a response to her sister’s brutally cold words. Slowly her tear filled eyes narrowed. Bursting to her feet, Iliza snatched up the boy’s sword and lunged towards her sister. Kalshiera smacked the blade away with her open palm.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Iliza responded by swinging the sword back at Kalshiera with all her might. An untrained, wild attack, yet so full of vim and vigor, even with a dull blade it posed grave danger. Kalshiera retreated with a quick step.
The Golden Rose of Kynazarr shook her head and laughed. “You’re not seriously going to challenge me to a sword fight sister, are you?”
“You’re a manipulative liar! I’ve spent my entire life trying to be nice to you—trying to make you care. And you disregard me at every turn!” Iliza swung again, this time meeting Kalshiera’s sword with a piercing clang that sang out above the rumblings of the foundry. The sharp noise stopped a number of metal workers on lower platforms, bringing their curious attention to the girls.
“You’re not just mean sister, you’re downright evil…” Iliza lunged again, this time adding a swipe at the end of her attack, a half-handed, but fairly well executed maneuver. Kalshiera rushed to bring her steel before her and block both blows. The sudden movements of both girls sending the platform swaying out even further from the wall.
Striking out a third time, Kalshiera no longer simply reacted. The Golden Rose struck out in a series of parries and strikes, first knocking the blade out of Iliza’s hand, then striking her forcefully on the same hand.
Iliza cringed in pain, cradling the partially upturned fingers of her bruised and bleeding hand. “and I wish you’d never been born!” Without further word Iliza rushed past Kalshiera, running along the metal walkway with tears streaming down her face.
So overcome with grief and pain, the young girl moved oblivious to the walkway’s fracture up ahead. Behind the fleeing girl, Kalshiera clearly saw the danger.
“Wait Iliza!” the Golden Rose screamed holding up her hand. But the warning fell on deaf ears. Though the workers had no knowledge of who fought high above them, they too saw the danger Iliza rushed headlong into. They gestured and shouted, but their pleas also went unnoticed.
The walkway buckled as Iliza neared the break, sending the Silver Rose of Kynazarr tumbling over the rail.
For all Kalshiera knew, both sides of the broken walkway would buckle under weight. But with her sister’s life in jeopardy, there wasn’t anytime to think… only act.
The Golden Rose of Kynazarr flew across the metal platform and hurled herself across the gap. With hand outstretched, Kalshiera landed on her chest and slid off the walkway, following her sister into the bright glow below.
Just before sliding off the platform completely, Kalshiera’s right hand caught hold of a support bar of railing. Her body jerked to a sudden halt, her left arm snapping taught… Iliza dangling in her grasp.
“Kal!” was all the Silver Rose of Kynazarr could muster, her eyes bright with terror.
Grinding her white teeth together, Kalshiera strained to lift her sister to safety. But the weight of Iliza, for her one arm, was too great.
“By Apsu! It’s the princesses.” A handful of panicked metal workers stood at the end of the metal walkway still anchored to the metal stairwell-like scaffolding.
“Hold on. We’re coming…” one of the workers yelled as he stepped out onto the walkway. The iron path responded with a groan and gradual tilt sending Kalshiera’s body sliding towards the edge.
“Get back!” Kalshiera cried, looking to the workers with white eyes.
Turning her attention down to her sister, Kalshiera’s voice fell calm and metered. “Iliza, I can’t pull you up. You’ve got to climb… Reach up with your other hand.”
Sweating from the heat of molten metal over a hundred feet below her, Iliza reached up with her right hand. It fell against Kalshiera’s wrist with upturned fingers. Iliza slapped her hand against her sister’s arm repeatedly, desperately trying to force her fingers to work. Each time her fingers remained curled in on themselves, unable to function.
“No,” Kalshiera whispered, fully realizing it was her own strike of malice keeping her sister from climbing to safety. Her own unprovoked rage about to send Iliza to her grave.
The hot wetness of Iliza’s hand loosened inside Kalshiera’s grasp. Iliza slowly slid away.
“Reach up Iliza! Reach up!”
“I-I can’t!” Iliza screamed out, her voice cracking in panic.
With only seconds left before Kalshiera lost her only sister, the Golden Rose of Kynazarr looked below with frantic eyes. Out of the corner of her vision, a furnace exhaust port came into view. A small stone ledge beneath a large metal grate, spitting flames.
The flames came in bursts and at the moment the flames burned low. With the ledge within jumping distance of another iron walkway, it was the girls’ only chance.
“Listen Iliza, I’m going to swing you over to that ledge.”
Iliza glanced down. Her eyes falling to the narrow ledge as a large blast of fire shot out through the grate.
“Are you insane?”
Slipping further from Kalshiera’s grasp, the Golden Rose pulled her sister back, swinging her body away from the platform. “There’s no time Iliza, just shut up and listen. When you land on the ledge, stay low. Get to the edge quickly and jump to the walkway. You can do it, before the flames come again.”
Iliza opened her mouth to argue, but Kalshiera had already let go. Screaming her sister’s name, Iliza tumbled through the air and crashed into the grate.
A sigh of relief escaped Kalshiera’s lips. Her aim could not have been more accurate. Now move, she thought to herself.
But as Iliza slid down the grate and landed on the narrow ledge, she screamed out in pain… searing hot pain. The burning of her hands and knees froze the girl in place.
“Move Iliza! Hurry!”
Beyond the distant screaming voice of her sister, a growl sounded out at Iliza’s side. Unable to move forward from the pain beneath her, the young girl tilted her head to face the ominous noise. Strands of hair leapt off Iliza’s face and flew inside the dark hole, summoned by some unseen force. It happened before the Silver Rose understood what was going on. A distant flash of light flickered. A light that rushed towards Iliza, exploding into a ball of roaring flame.
Fear overtaking pain, Iliza threw herself off the ledge towards the metal walkway. The flames engulfing her body before she left the ledge. She landed, a limp, motionless smoldering body.
Kalshiera’s mouth trembled. Her eyes swelled with tears.
By the time the Golden Rose made it to her sister’s side, the metal workers were already treating her. In such a dangerous environment, the workers were more than familiar with burn accidents… though they had never seen anyone survive one so severe.
Yet, survive she did. Rushed back to the surface, Iliza remained unconscious for over two weeks. A period in which the Golden Rose never once left her sister’s side.
The royal hearings that give witness to the tale, attempted find blame for the accident. Each and every military boy involved went through rigorous interrogation. In the end, the tragedy came to light as nothing more than a series of unfortunate events, with no one to blame but the fates themselves.
Though I suspect if you had the ear of the Golden Rose of Kynazarr herself, she might say otherwise. Despite the public’s view, or the official report, it is only human nature to shoulder the blame in an accident of such nature—after all, it was Kalshiera’s hand that forced the flames.
Repercussions aside, testament to Iliza’s royal quality and truly good nature, the Silver Rose of Kynazarr bore no animosity towards her sister. During the royal inquiry, she openly professed if her sister hadn’t thrown her into the flames, she surely would have fallen to her death. A logic the Golden Rose reluctantly accepted.
While none disputed the Silver Rose of Kynazarr’s survival as miraculous, many would have surely preferred death. For the grotesque, disfiguring burns left behind in the accident’s wake tested every fiber of the young girl’s mind and soul.
A challenge overcome in time, with dignity and sophistication. Defiantly refusing to recede into the shadows, Iliza donned her assortment of royal masks and stepped boldly into the Red City’s public life.
Nurtured by an always present, always attentive sister—over the years, the Silver Rose did her namesake justice and blossomed into the remarkable young woman she is today.
To look at the twin sisters of Kynazarr now, sharing and caring for one another as close as any sisters, anywhere—the powerful bond of sisterhood is undeniable.
Yet, for some reason my troubled old mind lingers in the shadows. It turns to places where guilt and blame are not extinguished, but brushed aside; left to fester and multiply.
To the dark recesses of the mind—the wellspring of obsession. The place where the mistakes of our youth wait to come back to haunt us.
For the Golden Rose of Kynazarr’s sake…
I pray to Apsu I am wrong.
Concept Kalshiera art (top of page and above) by Dylan Pierpont