Bzil knew that he was not supposed to go outside without his mother or older brothers. However, there was nothing for the little boy to do, and he felt as if he was in the way at the new house, where the older members of his family were always cleaning out rubbish or repairing long-neglected walls and floors. Thus the small, bright-eyed little boy waited until everyone was occupied, and then he darted silently and swiftly out of the house and into the sunny streets of the city of Mu.
Stopping in his tracks, he watched a group of tired and sweaty men and women as they labored with a crane to gently lower a new support beam into place within the roofless upper story of a skeletal building.
Bzil admired the brightly colored uniforms a few of the workers were wearing. They were members of the Royal Guard, and had his mind worked on that level, he would have admired the way the soldiers were giving their time to help the new citizens make the long-deserted and cursed city into a new home for the many exiles from the lost and still mourned for City of the Golden Gate. As it was, the quick and astonishingly keen boy merely smiled at the sight of the soldiers and their swords and blasters as they passed by his vantage point.
Drawing a toy sword from out of his coat, he danced forward to attack a band of ravenous but strictly imaginary jackal men. “Ho! You shall never claim a victory over Bzil and his friend Arion!” he cried, turning a corner and running down an alley as he avoided carts, crowds, and the occasional skimmer craft.
Before he realized it, he was lost. He frowned and bit his lower lip as he swallowed hard and determined not to cry. He would not cry. Arion himself would never cry, and neither would Bzil. He had admired Arion, the famous hero who had saved Atlantis on more than one occasion, ever since he had met the mage and witnessed him in action.
Looking left and right, he then ducked under a broken wagon. As he peered out from under the rotted wood, he saw three burly figures rush into the alley. They held a struggling woman in their grasps, and the fat hand of their leader covered her mouth.
The burly leader wore dangling brass earrings, and his hair was oily and scented with an exotic perfume. He caressed the captive woman as his friends turned to guard his back. “Jonno, Lynnid, watch the alley,” he said with a leer. “I’ll have my fun and then trade places with you! This little beauty will worth our trouble, eh?” He slapped the woman in the face, and as she fell, he pulled her into his arms. She tried to yell, but he kissed her roughly and prevented her from calling for help.
Bzil frowned. He knew what was happening was wrong, but he didn’t know what to do. Still, he did what came to mind. Jumping out of the hiding spot, he screamed a battle cry at the top of his lungs. “Yi-yi-yi-yi!” he cried as he waved his toy sword.
The gang whirled and raised their own real swords as the child stood before them. “Hey! We got ourselves a regular warrior king here!” said the tallest of the three thugs.
The balding blond robber grinned with broken teeth and said, “Aye! Too bad we don’t regard royalty of any kind!”
“It is that selfsame lack of respect for others that clearly displays your inhumanity for all to see,” said a stentorian voice from the mouth of the alley. “Perhaps your animalistic natures should become even more evident!”
Bzil’s eyed widened with pleasure as auburn-haired, slender nobleman in a bright costume of blue and red stepped into the alley. The regal newcomer glared at the thugs with a look of supreme contempt and drew closer as if he had no reason to fear them or their gleaming weapons. “Arion!” whispered Bzil as he saw his hero the high mage of the Atlantean Empire challenge the thugs.
Arion had gestured rapidly in an arcane manner as he had spoken to the men. Now energy flashed within the dark alley and brightened it as if the noon sun was directly overhead. Before the attackers could make any response to the mage’s entrance, they fell to the ground as his magic contorted and altered their bodies until they transformed into swine. They ran out of the alley as he stepped aside and deftly drew his own long cloak away from contact with their bodies as they hurried past him.
His harsh scowl softened into a look of concern as he helped the frightened women to her feet and inquired about her welfare. “Are you hurt? Those louts will long remember to regret this day’s dark work ere they resume their more human if less natural forms.”
Nodding breathlessly, she said, “Lord Arion! ‘Tis truly you! I little dreamt I would ever meet you face to face!”
Arion nodded and said, “The honor is entirely my own, milady. Now, shall we be off from here? Even with the good Royal Guard out and about, the streets of ill-fated Mu are not safe for one so fair!” Turning, he smiled and reached out one hand. “Bzil, I thank you for your help. Come with me and aid me in guarding the lady on our journey to her home. I would welcome your good right arm on such a dire trip!”
Bzil smiled broadly and ran alongside as the mage took the girl to her home and then led the child to where he belonged as well. “Arion, do you remember the flower you made?” babbled the boy. “I’ve never forgot that! We fought that old Weaver, didn’t we?”
Arion nodded and ruffled the child’s hair as he directed him over to where his new home stood. “That we did, young Bzil! Now do promise me that you will not wander away from home again. Your mother may need you to protect her as she works, as do we all, to make desolate Mu into a place we may rightly call home!”
Bzil nodded and said, “I promise! Will you visit us again?”
“When time permits me to do so, I shall be pleased to see you and your family,” replied Arion. “Now I must be off and about the queen’s business!” He waved as the boy entered the house and received a scolding from his worried mother.
Arion remembered the first time he had met the little boy. The child had spoken to him tentatively, but with a deep conviction to ask him to make a seedling grow into a flower with his magic. The child had gazed at him with eyes that gleamed with a mixture of faith and hope. Arion had been moved by the boy’s plea and by his obvious trust in Arion’s prowess. Still, that trust had come at a time when Arion had lost much of his magic, and thus all he could do was explain to the child that the power to bring maturation to the seedling was beyond his capability. The boy had secretly trailed Arion after their heartfelt discussion until he had witnessed Arion’s battle with a mystical being known as the Weaver. At the end of that conflict, thanks in part to Bzil’s courageous act of distraction, Arion had triumphed and had offered to make the flower for the child. He had regained some small access to his lost powers and thus could do the magic in question. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Weaver,” Arion, Lord of Atlantis #28 (February, 1985).]
“I didn’t really believe in magic before,” Bzil had replied, “but I have seen something… greater than a flower, sir… I believe now!”
Arion repeated his own words as he stood in the streets of Mu and remembered that day months earlier. “Oh, but nothing is greater than a flower, lad, nothing!”
Murmuring the words again, he turned and started to walk away. As he gazed around the city, he frowned. “How true were those sentiments? Now I have all the power I could desire, but what good can it do me if I can’t employ it to make this city a home to my people? I can protect them. I can, perhaps, inspire them. However, even with all the power of Calculha surging through me, what magicks can turn cold stones and rubble into a hearth and a home?”
Shaking his head, he summoned his old resolve once more. “Time may not permit me to do ought else but patrol these streets and prevent the roving bands of brigands who frequent this once-cursed place from harming my people as they forge a new life within these crumbling walls! Still, I shall never surrender to the clouds of despair that threaten to darken my spirit. Atlantis will rise again!”
After gazing upward with a swift gesture of his hands, he flew into the sky. “I see the signs of steady improvement as my people build and rebuild this place into a new home. Still, Mu will never equal the City of the Golden Gate, even in young Bzil’s lifetime. When Chaon’s dark malice destroyed that fair and fabled city, it also robbed many of these people of a heritage and a security built upon eons of stability and growth.”
Arion sighed as he recalled once more the stark and terrible moment when the monstrous embodiment of Chaos known as Chaon had manipulated space aliens into attacking the city. Arion had managed to drive him away moments too late to stop him as, in one act of gleeful malice, he unleashed a bolt of eldritch might that shattered the city’s foundations and caused it to sink beneath the waves. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Finale,” Arion, Lord of Atlantis Special #1 (1985).]
“Curse the demon for all he did! I managed to save almost every life. We evacuated the devastated city as it fell below the waters into old Altana’s scaly embrace. I led the exiles into our golden ships and brought them to the only possible haven for so many lost pilgrims — Mu! The deserted city long haunted by the twin specters of the once impending ice age and the evil wizardry of my brother Garn was the only refuge that could hold so many teeming masses. These streets were emptied by mass exodus nearly one hundred thousand years ago when the unnatural cold and the coming of Garn Daanuth drove the normal citizens to flee in terror. Now, with the second ice age prevented and Garn forever entrapped within the dimension known as Darkworld, Mu may be filled with laughter and hope in place of the rattle of swords and the cries of the fearful!”
Approaching the large structure that now housed the royal palace of Queen T’Galla, he sighed and said, “Calculha grant me the strength to make it so!”
Within the royal palace, an odd trio watched a scene of combat and excess. Wing was a slender man whose lineage would one day be called Oriental when the many diverse cultures and peoples of the Atlantean Empire would eventually settle in scattered parts of the globe, and new nations would rise in place of the fabled and glorious Atlantis.
He was a worrier. That was his nature. That was his job. And he was good at it. Wing had served the late King D’Tilluh with an obsessive and self-sacrificing devotion to duty until the monarch who had ruled the City of the Golden Gate for over one-hundred and seventy-five years finally gave up and took his own life. The suicide of the king had been the result of his manipulation by the evil wizard Garn Daanuth. Garn had not forced D’Tilluh to end his life, but he had broken his spirit and had led the old man to doubt his value to his people and his empire. Thus it could be said that the mad mage of Mu had slaughtered good King D’Tilluh. Before that he had destroyed the entire Khe-Wannantu nation with a tidal wave of destructive force. (*) Many generations earlier, he had driven the natives of Mu into exile and flight. There could be few sins that could not properly be laid on Garn’s back.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Blood Brothers,” Arion, Lord of Atlantis #18 (April, 1984).]
Now Wing continued in his capacity as adviser to the monarch. However, the new ruler was a queen rather than a king. Wing was loyal to T’Gallah, daughter of D’Tilluh. Still, as the dynamic and palpably aggressive former mercenary wrestled three of her subjects to the floor of the main reception hall, Wing wondered again if he could ever make the warrior queen into a lady.
T’Gallah jumped into the air and brought both legs together around the neck of a lieutenant named Karis. Flipping him to the ground, she then rolled across him to shove him down again. She laughed as she casually lifted a second man over her head and held him in a painful submission hold as he kicked helplessly in her grasp.
Queen T’Gallah stood over seven feet tall. She wore only a brief leopard print bikini that displayed her powerful muscles as she laughed and cursed, doing everything with the passion and gusto and sheer volume of one who had no time or interest in polite manners or reserved conduct.
She grinned her broad but appealing smile and showed her teeth as she slammed a bare-chested brute to the ground and placed one foot on his back. “Ha-ha-ha! Done and done! The ale is on you, General Tesh! I bested all three of your troops in record time, eh?”
General Tesh, a handsome if somber military man, nodded and threw up his hands in mock defeat from where he had watched the match with Wing and one other man. “Queen T’Gallah, I yield gracefully,” he said. “You have beaten my best men. Now this old soldier will return to his duties and receive the reports from the troops stationed on the border walls. That excuse will allow me to slink off with some dignity intact!” And he backed out of the room.
T’Gallah tossed back her head and laughed loudly as she saw the look of dismay on Wing’s face. “Wing, I will hear your reports as well, now that I have worked up a thirst,” she said. “Your dry facts leave a girl parched!” As she slapped him on the back, she almost sent the smaller but fit man to his knees.
“Thank you, Majesty!” he said. “We need to formally receive some agents from the other nine cities of the empire. They need to accept Mu as the new head of the empire. They need to see that stability will be a part of the new regime and the new capital!”
“Fine, fine!” said T’Gallah. “Just try not to have them all be frowning old women like Sir Termaine and those quaking eunuchs who keep shaking their heads at me in disgust!”
T’Gallah nodded in passing at the final figure who had observed her wrestling match. He was staring at her with open approval and a hungry passion that was clear to see. At seven feet, six inches, he was taller than her and possessed the body of a true warrior. He moved with a grace and ease that marked him as one of the last of the lost Khe-Wannantu people. Lieutenant Wyynde was T’Gallah’s lover and her bodyguard, although she certainly had little need of protection from most threats. The handsome warrior smiled as she winked at him. He laughed to himself as he followed her out of the hallway.
As the group passed by a slender woman in robes of red and pink, she frowned. Her name was Kali, and she was the royal astrologer. She knew them all, and she loved them all. She cared for her friends and her empire, and she felt concern because of what she saw within the stars and in the manner of the man named Wyynde. Wyynde is not himself, she thought. He has suffered much, but his pain and his loss cannot explain away the way his entire manner has altered. I see more suffering in his future, and yet how can I tell him when he scorns such warnings and sneers at me in such a way? Arion must listen to me. Only Wyynde’s friend and master can make things right!