The Scepter. An object of immense power and magic. Like any such object, it can be used for good or for evil.
For hundreds of years the Kingdom of Shi has been the home of the Scepter. The ancient mystics who created it entrusted it to the royal family of the Shi Kingdom because of its long line of wise and caring rulers. Since the creation of the Scepter, the members of the royal family of Shi had been born with inherent magical ability, though the greatest power was held by the kings. The Scepter allowed the kings to harness and channel their innate power. By using the Scepter, the kings were able to ensure peace for both Shi itself, and although unbeknownst to them, the kingdoms of the rest of the world.
For although the entire world owed its prosperity to the Shi kingdom, only those who actually lived in Shi knew of its existence. To the world at large, Shi was only a legend. In order to safeguard the Scepter, the Shi kingdom had agreed to be cutoff and isolated from the rest of the world. The ancient mystics had surrounded Shi with a forest so dense and full of dangers that only the foolish dared venture into it. Those who did never returned. Although their loneliness was a sacrifice, the people of Shi understood the importance of their duty.
Since the Scepter has resided in Shi, the kingdoms of the world have known harmony. However, everything must come to an end.
Damien, the King of Shi, covered his head with his arms as more of the palace ceiling fell around him. The screams of men and women reached his ears, fueling his anger. Suddenly he caught sight of a leathery wing in the corridor ahead. The handsome young king ducked around a corner to avoid being seen by the demon.
Damien's amethyst eyes narrowed as the demon snatched up a palace guard in its talons and tore him to pieces. "Damn you, Tuberov," Damien growled quietly. The evil sorcerer Tuberov had long wanted the Scepter for himself. The power of the Scepter combined with the strength of his own foul magic would make Tuberov nearly invincible. Only if Damien could get to the Scepter first would he be able to use it to destroy the demons and stop Tuberov. 'Fortunately the Scepter is well hidden,' Damien thought with an almost negligible feeling of relief.
Damien saw that the demon had disappeared, leaving only bodies behind it. Cautiously, he left his temporary refuge. The Scepter was kept locked away in the uppermost chamber in highest tower of the palace, hidden from detection by powerful magics, so Damien had no worries that Tuberov would find it first. Damien ran swiftly down the hall. As he rounded the far corner, however, he abruptly forestalled his headlong rush. His heart in his throat, he saw his younger sister sobbing uncontrollably as she bent over the mutilated body of her husband.
Damien closed his eyes in pain as his sister's grief wracked cries reached his ears. He rushed down the hall. When he was finally at her side, he bent down and took her in his arms.
"Marissa," he whispered, "I'm so sorry."
Princess Marissa felt as if her soul had been torn from her. She could do nothing but bury her face in her brother's shoulder as she cried. She'd seen her beloved husband, Gregory, trying to save a huddled group of servants from an attack by one of the invading demons. Knowing he was helpless against them by himself, she ran to his aid, being endowed with the power inherent in all of those with Shi royal blood. But she was too late. Gregory, the noble Grand Duke of Uji, was overwhelmed by the demon and ripped to pieces.
Damien said a swift prayer for his dear friend and urged his sister to stand. "Marissa, we must go," he said gently, but Marissa could hear nothing save for the crying of her shattered heart. Damien tried to pull her away but she struggled in his grasp, trying to return to her husband's side. "Marissa, I'm sorry, little one, but we must go. The children need us."
Marissa's sob caught in her throat. The mention of the children broke through her grief. She turned to her brother. "Yes, to the nursery. We must hurry," she said in a voice that was once again strong, though filled with tears. With one last longing look at her darling Gregory, Marissa turned and ran off towards the nursery. Damien said a final farewell to his friend and followed.
Queen Tatiana looked at the two infants lying in their cribs with sadness. Though she had the utmost faith in her husband, Damien, she knew that the situation was grim. The suddenness of the demons' attack had left them with little time to mount a defense. Now their only hope was the Scepter, but as it was still locked in its tower, the chances that Damien could get to it before the demons got to him were slim at best.
Tatiana, smiled reassuringly at the two nervous maids who were keeping her company and bent down to kiss her infant son and niece. She had delivered only days before Marissa and the babies were both only a few weeks old. Her sorrow increased as she though about what the likely destruction of Shi would mean for the tiny crown prince and the little duchess. Tatiana looked up and tensed as the door to the nursery suddenly opened. She sighed with relief when she saw that it was her darling Damien and her beloved sister-in-law Marissa.
"Thank the heavens," Tatiana cried as she ran to her husband. "You were gone so long that I thought the worst." Damien hugged her tightly and buried his face in her dark chestnut mane. Tatiana looked up into her husband's beautiful amethyst eyes and reached up to kiss him passionately. Marissa smiled at them through her tears. She loved Tatiana like a true sister rather than the distant cousin she was, and she was endlessly grateful that Damien had found love with such a wonderful woman.
Tatiana looked towards Marissa and frowned at the sight of Marissa's tearful face. "Sister, what's wrong," she began, reaching towards Marissa. She grasped Marissa's hand in hers and paused, looking around the room. In a cautious, quiet voice she asked, "Where is Gregory?" She found her answer in Marissa's silent tears and pulled the princess towards her. "Oh, my dear, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." Tatiana held Marissa for a moment while she cried, tears welling up in her own eyes.
Damien turned from the women and went over to the babies. His little niece made a whimpering noise. Damien smiled as his son turned his tiny face towards his cousin and reached for her hand with the jerky movements typical of infants. "Already a protector, aren't you, my son?" Damien bent over and kissed both children. "I'm sorry this had to happen. All I ever wanted for both of you is a normal, happy life." With renewed determination, Damien straightened and turned towards Tatiana and Marissa.
"I'm going to try to reach the Scepter." The women turned towards him with matched looks of concern. "Wait here with the children." Damien sighed as the looks of concern turned to consternation. He braced himself for the coming onslaught.
"Damien!" Tatiana said sharply. "We are not letting you go alone. As part of the royal family, Marissa and I have the power to help you." Damien sighed again at the looks of stubborn determination on the women's faces. He knew protest was pointless, but he had to try.
"My love, I can't bear to think of you and my sister being in harm's way. Besides someone needs to stay with the children ..." Damien's voice trailed off at the looks he was getting from Tatiana and Marissa.
"The children will be fine," Marissa said in disgust. "The demons are going to coming after *you*, my dear brother. We're coming with you and that's final."
Damien shook his head and relented. "Alright, but follow my lead." He turned towards the two older women who had been watching them. The women were Marissa's maids. They had been with the family since he and Marissa were children and he knew they were loyal and trustworthy. "Martha, Rose," he said, "please watch over our children." He took each woman's hand in one of his. "We'll be back as soon as we can."
Martha and Rose nodded in silent acknowledgement of the request. The maids knew that the situation was grim but they loved the king and his family and would protect the children with their very lives if necessary. They watched with despair as the king, queen, and princess kissed the children and left. "God speed," Rose said softly.
For the next twenty minutes or so, the maids sat silently beside the children's cribs. The babies would whimper occasionally, as if they knew of the danger their parents faced. The maids each rocked a crib, attempting to lull the children to sleep. "The little prince looks just like his father, don't you think," Martha asked. Rose nodded in agreement, adding, "But he has his mother's beautiful hair." Rose looked towards Marissa's daughter and commented, "This little one has her father's blue eyes and her mother's dark hair." She chuckled, "They'll both be heartbreakers when they grow up."
Martha's answering smile faded as she wondered if the sweet babies would ever have the chance to know their parents or to even grow up at all. Her face took on a look of determination and she swore to herself that they would live.
Martha and Rose looked anxiously toward the door when they heard sounds of the battle coming closer to the nursery. After several long minutes, the sounds died away. The women shared a glance. Rose left her post by the cribs and went to the door. Taking a deep breath, she opened it a crack and peeked out. The bodies of dead soldiers lined the hall near the nursery. Shouts and screams could be heard from a bit further away. Rose jumped back with her heart in her throat when something heavy hit the nursery door.
The door swung open and an injured guard stumbled in. The man was covered with streaks of blood from the numerous slashes that enveloped him. Martha ran over to the door to help Rose carry the man inside the nursery.
"What are you doing here," the guard rasped out as he fell to his knees. He looked over to the cribs and his one good eye stretched wide as he saw the children. "Are you insane! Get those children and get out of here," he shouted.
"No," Martha said sharply. "We must wait for the king, queen, and Princess Marissa to return. They told us to watch the children until they could come back with the Scepter."
The guard shook his head violently. "No! You must go now! They're all are dead. I saw their bodies myself. They were trying to make it to the tower. They put up a fierce fight. King Damien and Princess Marissa even managed to slay two of the demons. But there were just too many of them. They were overwhelmed." The guard's voice dropped to a whisper as he rasped out, "They're all gone."
Martha and Rose looked at the guard in disbelief. They turned to each other, expressions asking the other for guidance. "What do we do now, Rose?" Martha turned to the babies. "What do we do about them?"
Rose's eyes filled with tears as she looked at the now orphaned children. "We must take them to safety. Come, we can leave through the sewers. We must go now." Rose turned back to the guard and her face fell. He had died of his injuries in that short time and lay on the floor, staring at the ceiling with sightless eyes.
Martha followed Rose's gaze and a look of grief and determination stole over her features. "Come, Rose, we must be their mothers now. We'll make sure they grow up safely." She turned towards the cribs and lifted the infant prince. "Rose, take the princess and let's make haste." Rose complied.
The women stole out into the hallway. Running as quickly and as silently as possible, they made it to the kitchens from which they could reach the sewers and safety. A demon flying nearby saw the women run into the kitchen. It didn't perceive them as a threat so it let them go. Instead, it reported to its master who was now entering the conquered palace.
Dekim Dermail's small, dark eyes looked out over the battlefield with a smug expression on his homely features. The battle with the kingdom of Hane was going well indeed. King Odin Lowe had been caught off guard by Dekim's attack. So far, the King of Hane had been unable to mount an adequate defense and his front lines were falling to Dekim's troops.
Dekim closed his eyes as he felt a suddenly ringing sensation in his head. He recognized that it was his father trying to establish a telepathic link. He relaxed and opened his mind to his father.
'Father, King Odin's forces are falling. Hane will soon be ours.'
'Good, my son,' the evil sorcerer Tuberov replied. 'Shi has fallen as well.'
Dekim replied with surprise, 'Shi has truly fallen? What of the royal family and the Scepter?'
Tuberov gave a nasty laugh. 'The royal family is dead. King Damien tried to get to the Scepter to stop my demon horde. The fool led them right to it. The Scepter is now mine, my son. Soon Hane will fall as well. With Hane in our control and the Scepter in my hands, we will be unstoppable. Soon the entire world will bow before us.'
Dekim smiled malevolently, sharing in his father triumph. His communion with his father was cut short by a cry of warning from a nearby guard. Angry at the interruption, Dekim turned to the guard with a snarl.
"What are you wailing about, you idiot?"
The guard ran to Dekim and replied, "My lord, King Lowe's troops are surrounding us from all sides. We'll be trapped."
"*WHAT*," Dekim roared in disbelief. He turned his horse and rode quickly to the rear edge of his forces. As the guard had reported, troops bearing Hane's colors were riding towards the rear line. What was more disturbing was that Dekim recognized some of the troops as wearing the colors of Hane's allies, the Oz and Sanq kingdoms, as well.
"Damn," Dekim spat. "Where did those spare troops come from? Why are there Oz and Sanq soldiers here?"
What Dekim didn't know was that a large contingent of soldiers from both Oz and Sanq just happened to be billeted in Hane temporarily while an annual celebration of the alliance of the three kingdoms was taking place. Dekim had attacked while over three thousand troops were available to defend Hane.
The situation quickly deteriorated for Dekim. The allied forces overwhelmed his troops. His line was demolished and a Hane arrow ended the career of Dekim Dermail.
Tuberov was not overly concerned when his son suddenly broke their telepathic link. After all, the boy was involved in a battle and was sure to be busy. One of his soldiers approached him and Tuberov asked for a report.
"King Damien, Queen Tatiana, Princess Marissa, and Duke Gregory have all been killed, my lord," the guard reported.
"Yes, I know," Tuberov replied with an oily smile. "And what of the children? Are they dead as well?"
The guard looked confused. "Children, my lord?"
Tuberov sighed, "Yes, you idiot, King Damien and Princess Marissa's little brats. If those children still live, they may someday be able to use the power of Shi. Particularly, if the King Damien's son still lives, he may one day be able to use the Scepter against me."
Just then, a demon flew up to the sorcerer. "Ah, my pet, what have you found?" The demon hissed in Tuberov's ear. His face grew dark with fury. "What? The children were taken from the palace by two maids?" Tuberov growled and turned toward the guard. "Find these maids or find me someone who knows who they are."
The guard nodded and ran off. Tuberov waited impatiently but the guard returned a few minutes later, dragging a terrified maid behind him. Tuberov smiled at the woman, increasing the look of terror on her face.
"Now, my dear," Tuberov began, "who are the two maids who look after the royal children. Describe them to me."
The maid, although half mad with fear, shook her head in defiance. She was completely loyal to King Damien and Princess Marissa and would never betray them or their children. Tuberov growled and grabbed the woman by the chin with a punishing grip.
"Don't make this hard on yourself. You can either tell me or I'll drag the information from your puny little brain."
The maid shook her head again although tears were running down her face. "So be it," Tuberov said. He placed his fingers at the woman's temples and began to chant. The woman's eyes rolled up into her head and she began to scream. After several agonizing seconds, Tuberov released the woman and she fell to the ground, mindless.
"I have the images of the two maids from her mind." Tuberov waived in hands in an intricate pattern and the faces of the two maids hung in the air. "Find these women and you will find the children. Make certain that the children will have extremely short lives." The guard nodded and ran off.
Tuberov mumbled epithets, angered at the loss of the children. He knew that any one with royal Shi blood, particularly the crown prince, could be a threat to him, ruining all of his plans for world conquest.
Suddenly, Tuberov grabbed his chest in pain. He was filled with a burning rage as he realized that it wasn't his own pain he was feeling, but rather his son's. He roared in fury, knowing that his son was dead.
"Odin Lowe," he shouted. "You will pay for this! You and all of your miserable, stinking line!" Tuberov's rage turned into an icy calm and his lips curved into a sneer as he planned his revenge on King Odin.