I Believe an Introduction is in Order
You are not the first to stumble upon the truth, or at least know enough of the truth to come asking questions. I'll admit it's hard to keep subtle when you've lived as long as I have. The others almost too easily accepted my excuse that my parents named me after my rather famous "ancestor", and any resemblance between the two of us is merely coincidental, yet I can see that you will not be deterred. Perhaps I should reward you for your faith. Before I tell you my tale though, you must promise that my story will never leave this room. Few mortals like yourself are willing to accept the truth, for I am indeed the king you read of in your history books; the last king of Sakhmet. As the history books say the kingdom was destroyed rather suddenly, and among the dead the king's body was never found. For centuries now no one has been able to explain exactly what happened to Sakhmet, yet I will tell you exactly how my kingdom was destroyed, as well as how I've survived over two thousand years.
The reaper came to me unexpected and unannounced. It was against the law for anyone to come before the king uninvited under penalty of death, so when the stranger appeared in my chamber out of nowhere, I was both surprised and outraged that my guards had let the krawk slip past them. I tried calling to my guards to seize the intruder yet when he held up his hand I found myself rendered speechless, incapable of making a sound.
There's no need for that, O' Mighty One," the krawk smiled, lowering his hand again. Though he spoke perfect Sakhmetian, his accent and garments were unusual. He was dressed all in red and black, and a set of curled horns protruded rather prominently from his long dark hair. The rings on his fingers bespoke of some wealth, and he carried himself with a regal grace. Even his features were sepentine as he held his cold smile, and I finally noticed his eyes were red like fire.
Who are you," I asked, finally regaining my voice. "And how dare you come before me in my chamber unannounced. I could have you burned for this; your body thrown into the hottest furnace and reduced to ash within moments."
I know of your strength and fury, O' King," the krawk moved from the doorway, settling himself in one of my chairs. "It is why I come before you now with a matter of business. In spite of your anger at my forwardness, I think my offer is one you might want to consider."
Who are you," I repeated, my temper rising when I saw how little he respected my authority. In spite of being surrounded by thousands of soldiers who would come charging as soon as I gave the call, he seemed unafraid and even confident in his own power in my chamber.
Ah, how rude of me," the krawk apologized with a smile and a chuckle, which would have seemed friendly were it not for wicked look in his eyes. "Here I've come with my proposal and I've not even introduced myself. I go by many names actually, but I believe the most common name you mortals give me is Luscifer. And I know who you are, Mighty Ruler. Now that introductions have been made, may we move onto business?"
Though he spoke as if he were a god, his name remained unfamiliar to me. I was still unconvinced of his power, and continued scowl at the man who sat so comfortably in my chambers. "If you have the power you say you have, then prove it," I challenged him, causing that cold smile to reappear on his face. Suddenly I gave a cry of alarm as my room was quickly engulfed by flames. The curtains around my bed were reduced to ash in minutes, though my horror turned to fascination when I realized I was unaffected by the heat. The end of my robe soon caught fire from the falling embers, yet though I was consumed by fire, the blaze never hurt me. Once the man raised his hand the flames disappeared, and I was even more surprised see my walls un-scorched, and the curtains around my bed had reappeared, looking as if they had never been touched by the fire's destructive capability.
So, are you ready to believe me now?" Lucifer smiled as I tentatively reached out to touch the new curtains. There was not a tear or mark on them, and nothing in the room even smelled of smoke. "I can assure you again, you do not want to miss out on my offer."
What do you want then?" I asked, finally convinced the krawk was a god, or if not a god, then a being with immense supernatural power. He grinned at that, convinced he had me under his control.
You have a mighty nation under your control, O' King. You have defeated kingdoms and all around you tremble at your wrath and pay you tribute. You are proud and brutal, and nothing can overcome you, except one thing."
What can you mean?" I asked, my anger returning at the insult. "As you have said no kingdom dares do battle against my army, and all bow before me as a god. I fear no being and no power, earthly or divine."
Oh, but you are wrong," the krawk gave a cruel smile. "As far as I know, not even the mightiest mortal king has been able to conquer death. That is the one thing every man fears. It is the one thing you, mortal king, fear."
And you can control death?" I asked, still skeptical about the krawk's full power.
I can control many things. Death is only one of them. You see my kind, us reapers, have control over earthly elements and mortal souls, as long as we are given permission by said soul to interfere. With your consent I could, for instance, grant you immortality so you may rule your kingdom forever. Nothing, not even death, will be able to defeat you."
Your kind?" I asked, a bit surprised. "You mean there are others like you in the world?"
There are many like me in and outside of your mortal world," he said, folding his hands in his lap as he reclined in his chair. "Though, none are quite like me. I guess you could say, I am the most powerful of my kind."
His offer was tempting. Like all men I feared death, and with the ability to conquer death I would be as powerful as the gods, fearing no mortal being or divine. Yet I knew too that a gift like that would not come without a great cost. "And what do you want in return for this ability?" I asked, sitting down in the chair opposite Luscifer as his smile grew.
Now we're finally getting down to business. You see, reapers take a person's soul once they die, guiding them to the afterlife. If there is, of course, an afterlife. I've never seen it anyway, though I suppose a reaper's job would be a pointless one of the souls never went anywhere. Anyway, each soul contains what is called a halo, which we reapers take to give us power. Being the most powerful of my kind, you can imagine how many halos I have taken in my time," he gave a small chuckle. "However, taking and guiding souls can be so dull sometimes. It's just so repetitive. So, every once in a while I like to break free from the old routine; show my face to the human race every now and then. Like all you mortals, I enjoy a sense of power and need for a little amusement. So, for the price of immortality, all I ask for in return is your servitude. Just your promise to perform a few tasks for me here and there when the need arises. For a gift such as this, surely that isn't much to ask for."
Though I desperately wanted immortality, I was also proud, and the idea of serving the reaper was repulsive to me. "Even for god-like power, I would not sell my soul to you or become anyone's servant. If you knew me as well as you say you do, you would know how offensive your terms are to me. I cannot accept your offer."
Well that's a shame," he pretended to be discouraged by my rejection. "I would have thought for such a gift, your casual servitude would have been an easy price to pay. However, I am an easy-going person. Why don't you name the price, and I will decide whether it is worthy or not of my gift."
I thought a long time about what I would give to the man for the gift he offered to me. I was selfish and greedy, and offered the first thing I thought would be worthy of the gift of immortality. "You say your kind collects souls," I said, speaking slowly as I thought out my counter-offer. "What if I were to give you my own collection of human souls, in return for your gift."
My, my," he said with his cruel grin. "Are you offering me the souls of your whole kingdom? Even your soldiers? And your wives and children?"
Even my soldiers, and my wives and children," I nodded. With immortality, I would no longer need an heir, and with my kingdom lasting until the end of time I knew the krawk would gain many souls from my proposition. I believed it was an offer he could not refuse. Yet from the look of triumph that entered his eyes, I should have known that he had been expecting my offer the whole time.
Well, with an offer like that, how can I say no? It's decided then, immortality for your kingdom's souls. All you need to do now is sign the contract," he said, pulling a roll of parchment from seemingly nowhere. He handed the roll to me, allowing me to read through the contract, before approving the arrangement. I signed the contract with my signet, before the man did the same. I did not feel immediately different after the contract had been made, and my skepticism must have shown, for the krawk laughed before nodding towards the sword that always sat beside my bed.
Perhaps you would like to test out your new ability? Make sure I wasn't playing you false the whole time," he said as I moved towards my sword, grasping the handle with my right hand. I was not planning on doing something extreme without first starting small, sliding my left palm against the edge. As a warrior I was used to pain, yet I watched in fascination as the slice in my palm stitched itself in a matter of seconds, until the smeared blood on my hand and stains on the floor were the only signs of my injury.
You see," Luscifer smiled as I continued to inspect my palm for even the slightest scar. "I am a man of my word. And in return, I will collect what is mine in due time. I am glad you and I were able to do business with each other. I will leave my ring with you in case you need me again in the future," he said, placing the object on my table. "If you ever need me, just hold the ring and speak my name, and I will come. I'm sure you and I will meet again someday."
Just as he had unexpectedly appeared, the krawk vanished from my chambers, leaving me with his golden ring and my new ability. I was too elated with my newly gained immortality to consider any trickery on the reaper's part. I had achieved ultimate power, and pushed all thoughts of the krawk aside and contract aside as I thought of how all the world would bow to me as a god among men once I demonstrated my strength and inability to die by sickness, age, and sword. Only too late did I realize that I had made a grievous mistake that would cost me everything.
They came in the middle of the night, Darius the Qasalan and his men. He had threatened to attack before, but my soldiers far outnumbered his own, and any attempt would have been fatal on his part. Yet for my pride the gods turned against me that night. Another quake shook the area, more powerful and devastating than the one earlier. I remember the screams of my wives, wailing in fear and sorrow over the loss of a son or daughter. My once impenetrable palace was now in ruins, and much of my kingdom had been reduced to rubble. As I urged my people to flee the area I could not help but wonder if perhaps Luscifer had something to do with our current plight, and that was when the Qasalans struck.
In our weakened and chaotic state my soldiers fell before Darius's army. It soon became clear that the Qasalans weren't there to overthrow my kingdom but destroy it, killing commoners and slaves, women and children alike. I led my men to a final stand outside the palace remains. Though they fought valiantly for their king, many of my soldiers had been injured in the quake, and Darius's stronger men overcame them without effort. The soldier who faced me must not have recognized me, for he ran me through with his spear without beheading me as was custom. As I lay writhing on the ground amidst the turmoil around me, I forgot my pact with the Luscifer as I succumbed to the pain and weakness, and the darkness clouded my vision.
Everything was so quiet by the time I regained consciousness. The Qasalans had long since moved on, and in the light of the new day I could finally see the full extent of the damage done the night before. In spite of my cruelty towards my subjects, I mourned the sight of my ruined kingdom. In my despair I did not notice the footsteps that approached behind me until the figure spoke.
My, my, why does such a mighty and immortal king lament so? Is this not what you wanted?"
The krawk had changed, when I turned and faced the mocking tone. He had grown taller and his appearance had darkened, though his eyes still retained their unnatural glow.
You did this?" I asked him, almost not believing what he was telling me. All of this destruction was because of him?
Well there's no need to act so surprised about it. You and I had an agreement, after all. I held up my end of the deal, and I merely came to collect what was mine."
How could you?" I said as my despair was replaced by a great rage for the reaper and his cruel, mocking smile. "How could you?"
Don't act so hypocritical about it. You were the one who sold them to me after all. I only came to collect what now belonged to me."
Monster," I spat at him, prepared to tear him apart, though I knew it would do me little good. "Demon, how could you do this?"
No need to give me that accusing tone," Luscifer place a hand on his chest, pretending to act offended. "Have you not done the same? How many kingdoms have you yourself destroyed out of your own greed? I do not see why I am the monster here when you have done much worse. Anyway I did not come here to taunt you, as much as you would like to think that I have. It seems you left a little something behind in your panic last night. It's a wonder it wasn't destroyed in the rubble of the quake," he said, holding the golden ring he had offered earlier in the palm of his hand. "All of my servants carry some small token of mine, in case I ever need to do business with them again."
I never agreed to servitude," I snapped, refusing to take the object he offered to me. "That was not part of our contract. I would rather die than serve a creature like you."
Oh you would, would you? Need I remind you that you gave me your entire kingdom for your immortality? Are you really so willing to give it all away? Remember that I made you who you are. I could easily take my power back."
Take it. Take it back," I said, gnashing my teeth as I waited for the reaper to do what he threatened. I had never wanted to die more than in that moment, yet Luscifer looked more amused than wrathful, still holding forth the ring.
I can understand you are probably not in your right mind right now. I will give you some time to think things over," he said, finally letting the ring drop to the blood soaked ground. "I am sure once all things are considered, you will accept my future requests."
Just as like our last encounter the reaper seemed to vanish, leaving me staring at the remains of my former palace. Though I considered leaving the ring where it fell among the dead, I knew I could not leave it for discovery. Who knew what the reaper would do to the poor soul who may stumble upon it? The red gem in the centerpiece glowed like fire, and I closed my fist rather hastily before I was overwhelmed by an unsettling feeling. I cannot remember how long I stumbled among the ruins of my kingdom, for days felt like mere moments, or an eternity. In my ramblings I cursed Luscifer and I cursed myself, for I had once considered myself a god, and in my pride and folly I had made a terrible mistake.
And I, Nebuchadnezzar, wept for everything I had gained and lost.
Thanks for the lovely art Mia (aka techi1080). I love the different time periods and clothing styles you chose for Neb.