The planet itself possessed all the characteristics of woman whose beauty had faded with age. Her face had become wrinkled to grotesqueness; her hills and mountains flattened with wear. Her wells and waters had long since been run dry by senseless waste and over-consumption.
It was a lifeless desert of unsympathetic misery. A graveyard. And all that remained was but a mere shade of its forgotten glory.
The landscape was bathed in the color of blood, as the setting sun expelled the last of the day's light from upon the distant horizon. The very earth trembled beneath the feet of a million marching soldiers while the two Crenation armies converged onto one another.
Countless warriors' steely blades glistened brilliantly in the waning sunlight, but their armor was dull and soiled. The war had been long, and the battles many. And Though the combatants had prepared for the final, inevitable Armageddon of that day--polishing their weapons so that they may slice through their victims without impediment--each considered it useless, even foolish, to clean his garments beforehand. They would be dirtied, once more, when all was either lost or won.
Like a pair of dueling bulls, the two armies crashed into one another, and an explosive thunderclap of metal against bone filled the air. Chaos followed when the passions of those on the front lines came to full fury. They had lost too many loved ones in those Ancient Wars to do otherwise. They had invested too much to give up now. For this was the battle to end all wars. Every Crenation still left alive on the entire planet (few as they may be) now filed in for the slaughter.
Flesh was torn to ribbons as the armies melted into one another like two streams combining to form a collective lake of entrails and gore. Teeth gnashed with terror, and mouths screamed with the agony of terrible death. The carnage was so raw that a red mist began to collect in the air. And as the two groups of soldiers continued to stab into one another, trashing and killing with every step of the way, it is said that the blood of those already slain began to rain down upon them from the heavens.
This is when Lord Herthen broke forward from the masses to claim his rite in the violence. He was champion of one army. He was the absolute, secular and religious ruler of his people, and sole reason for the death that occurred that day. His face was scarred with the unsightly reminders of previous battles: malformed and twisted into a sort of dark, and hideously permanent smile.
Like all Crenations, his legs were short, while his upper body broad and powerful. But his size was considered to be of giant stature, for he stood nearly two full heads taller than any other on the field. His three eyes stared lustfully into the throng of enemy soldiers before him, as if his stabbing gaze were enough to penetrate through their thick, scaly skins. And at once they all shrank back in terror.
He raised his powerful weapon, which was nearly the full length of his body, and swung it into the nearby crowd. Every stoke let off by his powerful arms, in those cramped quarters, dealt death to nearly a dozen members of the Crenation species. They were hewn down to the earth like tall grass. He cared not whether he struck friend or foe. That was their problem to be dealt with. For Lord Herthen was the reaper of life, in the most gruesome of harvests.
Some of his victims were merely struck with mortal wounds, and became motionless with death before they even hit the ground. Others were completely decapitated. But those unfortunate enough to feel the full chopping force of his blade were cleft entirely in half and then left to die, torturously, as their vital fluids slowly drained from their bodies. And within moments, a great wall of corpses had already accumulated around Lord Herthen.
A blasting war cry then exploded from behind him. It was the exuberant shout of absolute victory, of undisputable triumph, issued by his army. They now watched while their enemies fled from the front lines, retreating into one another. And Lord Herthen smiled with delight as he watched them, clumsily tripping over the body parts that littered the earthen floor, which had long since become slippery with blood.
But their shouts soon died, just as quickly as they had begun. All eyes were fixed upon the enormous mass of retreating soldiers--or, rather, what then came out of them. Lord Herthen watched as the army of his opponent then parted to form a wide channel down the center. Within moments the entire ocean of warriors had been completely split in two. A pathway was being formed. And, for the first time throughout the entire battle, silence reigned the landscape.
An ominous pacing was then heard, like the beating of some distant war drum. It traveled not through the air--but through the very earth! Lord Herthen looked around, and saw that the bone-littered floor around him had suddenly come alive. He watched as stone, pebbles, and even the remains of his fallen victims danced with the clattering vibrations of what then approached. And as he rose his gaze from the ground, he finally saw it!
A steel-plated monster then stepped forward from the gap, pulling himself apart from the throng of Lord Herthen's enemies as if being shot forth from a cannon. Those around him were blown down by the breeze of his passing, the seismic shaking of his every footfall. And as Lord Herthen saw the giant rushing toward him, he braced himself for impact.
A loud metallic explosion rang through the heavens, as their two swords sang with repeated clashing. Even the mighty Lord Herthen, monolith amongst his own, was utterly dwarfed by the sheer size of the behemoth before him. The creature, though not much taller than his opponent, was some twice his girth and stature. And as he raised his blade high into the air, the full brilliance of the setting sun behind it, the two armies gasped with grim expectation.
Wham! Like a hammer, his weapon fell. But Lord Herthen was well prepared. He recognized the Crenation general before him, had met him in numerous previous engagements, and had long-since prepared himself for this inevitable battle of kings. Lord Tyqris was his name, and he, himself, was champion of the other army present. But as the enormous Tyqris landed his sword, it struck bare earth instead of its true target. For Herthen, smaller and more reflexive, had easily dodged the blow.
Armored in only light plate, Herthen easily managed to swing full circle around his opponent. The armies watched, and distanced themselves, waiting for the inevitable kill. Herthen dropped his weapon, and snuck between the protective gear of Tyqris' heavy armor. Then, producing a small dagger from his garments, he thrust the weapon upward--directly into the other's exposed flesh.
A tremendous bellow rattled the sky, and at once Herthen stepped away. He awaited the enormous Crenation's fall, and decided it prudent to flee from the crushing wrath of Tyqris's tremendous weight. But as he sprinted for safety, a most peculiar thing then happened. The dying scream of his opponent, leader of his enemy's army, had suddenly ceased--no! It had been replaced with something much different.
"Herthen, you fool!" shouted the general, as he gathered his breath. His laughter rang throughout the landscape, and echoed between the two armies. He plucked the blade from his body, as if it had been a mere thorn in his side, and then let it fall to the earth with a single, careless gesture of his opening hand. "I'm not like the others you've murdered. Yes, I've heard the stories--seen some of them, as have we all! You'll have to do better than that, if you wish to capture the strongest army that Crenatia has ever seen!"
"Strongest army!" the other spat, stopping his retreat, while rage instantly filled his voice. His failure had been pronounced before all to see, and he felt a certain tinge of fear slither down his spine as he watched those around him further distance themselves from his presence. They were giving him room, he thought, because the fight was not yet over. And within no more time than it takes for a stone to fall a man's height, a wide circle of nothingness had been engendered about the two combatants.
Herthen turned, and spoke: "I outnumber you, two-to-one. And your people are weak, and dying. Mine are strong from the plunder of countless nations. Through my ingenuity, the people of Crenatia have prospered--"
"Through gluttony of blood, they've all been slain!" the other retorted, his humorless laughter subsiding. Not even Herthen could ignore the shockwave of fear that this sent throughout the ranks of his men. It was as if they had all been blown backward with the forceful winds of a hurricane.
And that is when the two, no longer able to contain themselves, pounced upon another like lions in frenzy. They both dropped their weapons, and abandoned them to the earth. Each crashed into the other with the full force of a freight train, when they proceeded to rip at each other's exposed parts with nothing but their fists.
Hands became daggers as they stabbed into the other's eyes and throat. Fingers turned into claws, while the two ripped off another's armor--piece by piece--until their garments were nothing but shredded remnants of cloth. On the ground, their battle fell. But it was Tyqris, the slower of the two, who managed to fall first.
Herthen used his speed as advantage, as he fell on top of the other, and wrapped his strangler's fingers around his victim's sinewy neck. Tyqris flapped and flailed his every limb like a helpless beast. For several moments, both armies held their breath as they watched the vicious Herthen steal the life from the noble Tyqris.
"See my gluttony?" Herthen whispered to his opponent, as the latter's eyes began to bulge from their sockets. Wordless speech uttered from Tyqriss mouth, as his fists slammed into Herthen's back with a gradual slowing of pace. "Where is it? For no more blood shall be spilt today. I'll kill you, now, and make history remember your foolishness for the ages to come."
Herthen brought his face closer to the other's ear, then said: "My children shall live through the ages. It will be me, not you, that inherits the universe...and there's nothing that you can do to--"
But his words were never finished. For the thunderous blasting of a thousand maelstroms then suddenly ripped through the atmosphere. It was the sound of the gods in condemning fury, and at once both armies collapsed to the earth for cover. White light filled the sky--greater than any daytime creation that the sun had ever given--and Lord Herthen found himself suddenly flung backward, sprawled painfully against the unforgiving ground, as if he had been struck by lightning.
His eyes were dimmed with the squelching pain of incalculable brilliance. But his rage overwhelmed all else. At once, he sprung to his feet, thrashing about in every direction, as if to attack the very light that blinded him. Until, suddenly, and quite unmistakably, he heard a coldly familiar voice.
The voice was calm, confident, and effusive of an unequivocal tranquility that could not be matched by any other. It had grown older, since last Herthen heard it. Much older, much steadier. Much more powerful. And for several moments, the Lord pondered to himself....
Have I gone mad? Has Tyqris's trickery somehow bested me? But as he looked around himself, his vision finally restored, he saw the countless faces of both armies staring upward with the look of complete incredulity plastered upon their collective countenance.
But instead of being happy, or grateful, or any other emotion warranted by the sudden discovery of life rather than death, Herthen became enflamed with anger, once again. For, when he looked into the countless eyes of the surrounding masses, he noticed that they weren't watching him. No, they were all deeply focused upon something else.
"I said," spoke the voice again. It was the sound of dead leaves rustling about in a fall-time gale. "Calm yourself."
And that is when Herthen swung about his eyes, and landed his gaze upon the owner of that voice. That voice! How he feared that voice! It was the sound of the child...not a child--a monster!...from many years ago...But how? 'It' had been banished from the land! Lord Herthen had arranged for its death! He had seen to that personally, the child was a monstrosity, a...
"Mutant!" Herthen screamed with unbridled terror, when his eyes made contact with the object of his chagrin. His world suddenly vanished around him. Tyqris had become something of the past, utterly insignificant. All the peoples around him: nothing.
All he cared for now, in that moment of astounding reverie, was an explanation. What he saw before his eyes was the mutant. The figure of a lone Crenation, utterly abandoned of emotion, sitting cross-legged in the dead center of the ring that the two armies had created.
"What is this?!" Herthen shrieked. It dawned on him that his victory had been stolen from him. Mere moments ago, he was destined to be the ruler of the known universe. But how? What happened? "What are you doing here you..." he trailed off, as fury replaced the grotesque grimace that normally plastered his marred face. "You freak!"
But, rather than what Herthen had expected of him, the strange being did not move. It gave no recognition that it had heard him whatsoever. It merely waited, staring at the ground, its body featureless due to the oversized cloak that he wore. It was as if Herthen were speaking to a lifeless tree stump, planted in the earth.
"Answer me!" he roared, as he began to make his way toward the creature. Finding his weapon lying out upon the earth, he bent low to the ground, and gripped its hilt firmly within both hands. His scale-covered skin crawled with malice as he raised the blade high into the air, and enclosed the distance between himself and the flippant interloper.
"I said answer me, or I'll--"
"I said calm yourself," the creature then stated flatly. And as if it had all been a trick of the eye, something inconceivable to all who saw, the creature then rose from the ground--rose from the ground, and reached toward the heavens. For the mutant had matured. And what Herthen now saw before him was no longer 'the child.' It was the full manifestation of the nightmare that he had hoped to prevent by instigating its death--what should have been it's death, long ago.
"No..." the wicked Herthen uttered to himself, as he saw the creature rise ever higher into the air. Herthen had enjoyed the lavish nutrition in his youth that gave him increased size over all the miserly wretches of his poverty-stricken nations. But what he saw now, before his own eyes, was an impossibility. "No...it can't be..."
As the mutant rose to the sky, his secret became revealed to all. His over-cloak vanished in the breeze, and the extra pair of limbs protruding from his abdomen was exposed. He stretched some two and half normal Crenation heights into the air, as if in mockery of his species' ordinarily insignificant stature. And no other--not the seemingly giant figures of Herthen, nor Tyqris--could remotely compare to this enormous creature's stature.
The mutant then turned his enormous head to the wicked Herthen. His eyes were abnormally large, and sparkled bright red with the very last illuminating rays of the setting sun. His skin seemed to reflect light like a mirror, glowing majestically, as if He were a god, incarnate. And when He spoke, His words were uttered no louder than with the volume of a hushed whisper, but were heard with an almost divine precision and clarity throughout the entire landscape.
"Go home. Forget your black desires. And use your power to heal, instead of hurt."
His language was, of course, directed to Herthen. But when He spoke, the Lord felt an insurmountable rage lifting upward from his belly and into his throat. He recognized the creature from his past. Had seen that monster's face countless times in the sleepless dreams of his every night. He had been warned by the light had he not? Warned to destroy it, no matter what the cost...
"You dare tell me what to do?" Herthen then mused, shattering the silence. He sounded awkward, almost infantile, speaking immediately after the other's powerful voice. It was the difference between hearing the music created by an amateur, versus a life-long virtuoso. And as his shrill speech continued, he noticed that his army now looked upon him with downcast faces, and disdainful, slits of eyes. "I am your master now, wretch! I am the seed that spawned you! You're filth cannot taint this glorious day for me! I own you, and everything else...this is my world!"
And with that, he rushed upon the mutant, his anger blinding his better judgment. Lord Herthen raised his blade high into the sky, so that its very tip could barely match the prodigious height of the creature before him, and swung down amd into His flank. He had hoped to slice the defiant Crenation mutant completely in two--a gesture, in those last few moments of consciousness, that he thought would demonstrate to all his surrounding subjects the sheer power of his devotion. He would slice the monster in two. Yes. Cut Him in half, so that He'd just barely be down to Herthen's own level.
But instead, his weapon came within a hair's width of cleaving the legendary Mandrala--when a brilliant flash of blood-red light filled the sky. And, in a single blur of lightning-fast motion--in less time than what it takes for the blinking of an eye--Lord Herthen stopped his advance.
...Mandralor then sighed, slowly and heavily, with what was either great relief or insurmountable disappointment, and returned His crimson-glowing weapon to it's sheathe. Those who had watched Him carefully enough, and were serendipitous enough to catch that brief glimmer of activity that lasted only a fraction of a second, saw what happened. The mutant had somehow managed to remove His blade, strike with the uncanny precision and speed of a deadly serpent, and return it once again.
And then, Lord Herthen's neck yawned wide open, the grim smile upon his face now etched into the unmistakable look of incredulous horror, as his head fell backward and completely off his body.
Astonished silence filled the landscape. No one could believe what they saw. Tyqris, who had feigned death out of fear, suddenly rose from his place upon the earth. Like a true Lord of his domain, he brushed the excess dirt from the shredded and soiled rags that were once his royal garments, and stood tall and proud before the masses. Perhaps he did not even notice that no eyes were any longer upon him.
He walked toward the mutant, who had long since resumed His meditations upon the ground. Both His legs and sets of arms were folded, and His eyes were closed and placid upon His face with heavy contemplation. He did not turn his head or acknowledge the presence of Tyqris as the Lord made his way toward Him. By now, both armies surrounding the great mutant had bowed low to the ground, with faces planted firmly into the dirt. Their knees dug painfully into the bone-littered earth.
But Tyqris continued spanning the stretch of distance between himself and the mutant, jubilation swelling within. He had saved the day, had he not? Herthen was dead, and no there was nothing left to threaten the peace of his world. He had always been a just ruler. Had he not? Surely the gods now smiled upon him.
Finally, once he had come to hover over the mutant for several long minutes--and having still received no recognition of his presence--Tyqris opened his mouth to speak. There was no malice in his words, but instead the authoritative air of an aristocrat. It was the voice of one who had given orders all his life, had always been obeyed without question, and had never expected anything otherwise. And as he finally uttered those unforgettable words from his mouth, it is said that Tyqris looked around him, and actually thought that all the masses were bowing to him instead of Mandralor.
"I commend you for your services to me, and my people, on this day," he said. His brazen words echoed throughout the land, and then there was silence. The wind blew harshly upon him, and Tyqris began to feel a cold chill slither throughout his scantly clothed body. Several long moments passed, and the mutant still gave no response. He just simply continued to sit, peacefully and without concern, cross-legged upon the marred landscape.
Tyqris began to feel his gratitude waning into a sort of unexpected irritation. The monster was clearly ignoring him, and a sudden resentfulness overcame him. After all, he, Tyqris, was master of all Crenatia. Perhaps, he thought to himself, he had better express himself more clearly.
He cleared his throat, sent one semi-cheerful, semi-imperious glance to the circle of kneeling figures all around him, returned his gaze to the mutant, and spoke once again: "You have done a great service for me today. And I hope to repay you. You shall be rewarded with a vast expanse of land, and full nobility directly beneath my council and myself...."
That is when Mandralor finally stirred from His meditations. His three eyes opened, and resumed to emit their natural radiance to the world. Slowly, His head turned--just enough so that Tyqris saw the profile, not the front, of His luminescent face. And when He spoke, His voice was again so clear that everyone in all of Crenatia heard it, even though it was being projected downward, not to Tyqris, but to the lifeless earth.
"Go kneel," the Mandralor said, "with all the others."