Doomed Empire: A Tale of Atlantis
Prince Astraeus of Caiphul schemes to usurp the throne of his father, King Darius. Seduced by his step-mother and an evil magician named Gucumatz, his plan includes the sacrificial death of an innocent young woman, Princess Asparis.
Astraeus' plans change when he meets Asparis and falls in love. The story follows his struggle to free himself from the influence of his step-mother and Gucumatz, face torture by his father's assassins and battle his way through to a vision of his ultimate destiny.
“What did you say?” demanded Prince Astraeus.
“I said that Poseidonis is doomed unless we take immediate action to prevent it,” repeated High Priest Gucumatz. He was tall, in his prime, and his lean, ascetic figure was cloaked in a crimson robe. His face was pale and narrow, with a forehead stretching loftily between his black brows and equally black hair.
Astraeus stared at him in astonishment.
“But Poseidonis is the largest island of the Atlantean Empire,” cried Queen Rhea. In her anxiety, she leaned forward and her gown fell open, revealing deep cleavage between heavy breasts. “If Poseidonis is doomed, where can we go—what can we do?”
Astraeus and Gucumatz regarded the young queen in silence. She was stunningly beautiful, with thick masses of lustrous black hair cascading around her head and slender shoulders. Her eyes were the deep blue of storm-tossed seas, and her straight nose ended over full lips as red as pomegranates.
In the ensuing silence, Astraeus lifted the decanter of wine from where it sat before them on the oaken table and filled his crystal goblet. Sitting back in his chair, he gazed moodily at the stone wall at the far end of the room. They sat in a chamber situated far beneath the royal palace of Caiphul. Hewn from solid rock, it was just large enough to contain the table and the four high-backed chairs surrounding it. A single bronze lamp hung from the low ceiling, and the halo of light thrown by its flame served more to accentuate the darkness than to dispel it.
Gucumatz rested his elbows on the arms of his chair and interlaced his fingers beneath his pointed chin. “Fortunately, last evening I referred our problem to the Great God, Thevatat,” he bowed his head reverently as he spoke the name, “and I now understand his wishes. With them in mind, I have devised a plan that will serve our needs as well as his.”
“Thevatat will help us?” Rhea’s mouth twisted cynically. “At what price...?”
“Let us not be crude!” the high priest retorted sternly. “We have all sworn allegiance to the Great God, and his needs have become our needs. There is only one commodity that he or any of us is interested in—power.”
“But Thevatat is already all-powerful,” inserted Astraeus, his deep, resonant voice tinged with sarcasm. “What can we give him that he does not already have, or can simply reach out and take if he wants it?”
As he spoke, Rhea glanced at him, and even though she was his step-mother, her full lips parted and a deep, sensual hunger flared up in her eyes. Gucumatz regarded him coolly, and his mouth stretched to a thin line.
Slightly younger than his stepmother, Astraeus was the youngest son of King Darius, ruler of Caiphul, the strongest, most dominant kingdom of the Atlantean Empire. Tall and broad-shouldered, a thick mane of black hair swept straight back to his shoulders and was kept under control by a thin gold band encircling his brow. Grey eyes flamed with an intensity that was only partially disguised by half-lowered lids, and a high-bridged nose hovered over a wide mouth that held more than a hint of cruelty. His square chin indicated a nature that was strong, definite and determined. An ermine mantle thrown back over the chair revealed a heavy gold chain set with blood-red rubies strung across his deep chest. Even in his relaxed posture, he radiated power, confidence and authority.
“To prevent the destruction of Poseidonis,” Gucumatz went on, “we need to devise a plan that is somewhat out of the ordinary. To achieve the desired results, Thevatat requires a sacrifice of a power and purity far beyond anything we have previously given him.”
“Purity...?” Rhea snorted dubiously. “Where in Caiphul would we be able find anyone who could fulfill that requirement?”
“Certainly not at this table,” Astraeus murmured with a chuckle, as he took a deep swallow of wine.
“Enough!” Gucumatz’ palm struck the table. “Prince,” he regarded Astraeus severely, “you must learn when jests are appropriate and when they are not. Timing is critical if we are to save not only Poseidonis, but ourselves. I would appreciate it if you would pay attention while I describe the action we must take.”
Astraeus’ lids drooped even lower to conceal the fury that blazed up in his eyes at the high priest’s rebuke. “Pray, continue...” he muttered icily.
Gucumatz gazed at the wall behind Rhea’s head as he gathered his thoughts. “For some reason,” he began, “the experiments I have been conducting with the power crystals deep within the earth have gone awry. Under the continued impact of the crystals, the continental plates upon which Poseidonis rests have become disjointed and are spreading apart. If they continue to shift at their current rate, the land mass of Poseidonis will break asunder and send the whole population of the island to oblivion beneath the waves.” He glanced from one to the other of them, and his black eyes were bleak. “There may or may not be a few small islands left after the cataclysm. We have no way of estimating, at this point, the extent of the damage.”
“Earthquakes have been chipping away at Atlantis for generations,” Astraeus protested. “Thousands of Atlanteans have already fled to other lands.” Placing his goblet on the table, he leaned forward and stared hard at the older man. “Are you saying that your experiments with the power crystals have accelerated the process?”
“Not only has the process been accelerated,” Gucumatz admitted with a sigh, “but the present crisis is far more serious than anything we have ever before faced. If something is not done soon to halt the shift of the continental plates, Poseidonis is doomed.”
“You said that you have a plan,” Rhea commented. “What is it?”
The high priest leaned forward, placed his elbows on the table and lowered his voice, as if there was someone hiding in the shadows who might overhear his words. “King Amelius, the ex-ruler of Alta, after being driven into exile by your father, King Darius,” he glanced at Astraeus, “has been given refuge in the mountain kingdom of Carrora by old King Menax, the last of the Tlavatlis kings.”
“Yes,” Astraeus put in musingly. “King Menax and his court are the last of the Tlavatlis race. With Carrora so high up in the mountains, Menax is independent enough to risk my father’s wrath by giving King Amelius sanctuary.” His muscular hand curled into a fist. “But the day approaches when we will root them out—Menax, Amelius and all their people. Then we will be rid of them for good.”
Gucumatz raised a pale hand in warning. “For the present, that is precisely what we do not want. Certainly, the future holds nothing but death for the old kings, but for now we must manipulate them to our advantage if our scheme is to succeed.” He paused as his eyes probed Rhea and Astraeus in turn. “King Amelius has a daughter by the name of Princess Asparis. She is reputed to be very beautiful and...pure. For some years she has been under the tutelage of the old sorcerer, Kukulcan,” the corners of his mouth drooped with disdain, “who now resides at King Menax’s court, and she has apparently reached a high level of spiritual development.”
Rhea sniffed coldly. “Then it is she who Thevatat demands in sacrifice?”
“Exactly,” Gucumatz replied. “The power we can liberate and channel through her death will have the quality and intensity Thevatat requires to bring the plates upon which Poseidonis rests back into alignment.”
“How will we get her here?” Astraeus asked dubiously. “My father is not yet ready to risk an assault on Carrora.”
“On your behalf, beloved Prince,” Gucumatz bowed ironically to the younger man, “we will make a strong request for her hand in marriage.”
“What!” Rhea glanced possessively at Astraeus. “Why is marriage necessary?”
“Because, my Queen,” the high priest purred, “not only do we not have time to wait for your royal husband to attack Carrora, but we must acquire the maiden in such a manner that we can, along with her, put our hands on certain secrets of power that are in the possession of her father, King Amelius.”
“I remember now...” Astraeus had been spinning the goblet in his fingers. As he spoke, he placed the cup on the table. “My father was furious when Amelius escaped his attack on Alta and was taken in by old Menax. He said that Amelius’ engineers had developed a power device capable of splitting units of matter and releasing the tremendous energy imprisoned within.” His eyes lit with a cold fire. “The device has awesome potential as a weapon of war. Darius was counting on getting his hands on it and he has been in a rage ever since over it slipping through his fingers.” He thought for a moment. “How are you going to convince King Amelius to give me, the son of his deadliest enemy, his daughter in marriage? And not only that, why would he send along the power secrets; assuming of course, that we could convince my father to go along with the scheme?”
“Your father will go along with the scheme because he wants those power secrets,” Gucumatz answered. “Amelius will agree to the marriage because we will convince him that to refuse our request will bring your father’s wrath down, not only on him and his people, but upon King Menax, who has so kindly given him refuge in his time of need.” The high priest's mouth stretched in what was supposed to be a smile, but he only succeeded in resembling a serpent about to strike. “Amelius is a man of honor; he would never allow that to happen. Then, once we have Princess Asparis firmly in our possession, we will use her life as a bargaining tool to convince him to turn over the power device.”
“I do not like it!” Rhea’s brows drew together over eyes gone dark with anger and jealousy. “We should come up with a different idea that does not include saddling Astraeus with this thin-blooded little tulip.”
Gucumatz considered her through eyes that easily read the jealousy and fear at the root of her motives. “Do not forget, my Queen,” he pointed out patiently, “that what we are proposing is only temporary. Once we are in possession of the secrets, Asparis will be sacrificed to the great god, Thevatat, for the salvation of Poseidonis. At that point, the burden of her presence will be lifted from the shoulders of Astraeus—and from yours.” His voice became definite and business-like. “Her sacrifice is the short term solution to our problems that is demanded by Thevatat. The power secrets that will come with her ensure not only the long term preservation of Poseidonis, but the domination of the kingdoms of Atlantis.”
Her face rigid with anger, Rhea glanced sideways at Astraeus. “Well, what do you say?”
Astraeus had been studying his stepmother during her interchange with the high priest. Perhaps it was a trick of the dim lighting, but her anger exposed what he could only describe as an ugliness of character that was usually hidden behind her matchless physical beauty. He turned his eyes away from her and stared at the wall while he thought things over.
His father, King Darius, was the strongest, most dominant ruler within the Atlantean Federation. He was not yet powerful enough to war against the whole Empire if all the other kings united against him, but his ultimate goal, to which all his schemes were directed, was to become overlord of Atlantis. The power secrets that would be his if Gucumatz’ plan succeeded would finally tip the balance of power in his favor. They would give him the advantage he needed to bring the other kingdoms to heel.
That consideration would be enough, Astraeus was sure, to convince Darius to agree to the plan. As the youngest and least favored of the king’s two sons, Astraeus was not himself in line to inherit the throne of Caiphul. But it occurred to him that this scheme could give him the leverage he had been seeking to coerce his father, who would do anything to possess the power device, to pass on the throne to him rather than to his older brother.
Glancing covertly at Gucumatz, Astraeus kept his face impassive to veil his hatred for the older man. There should be some way he could turn this plan to his own advantage. He had become impatient with the high priest’s heavy-handed dominance, and he was tired of playing the pawn in his schemes. If he could take the power device for himself, he could use it to topple both Gucumatz and Darius from their positions of power. He would then take Rhea as his queen and rule Caiphul on his own. The idea appealed to him, but, he decided, it was still vague and depended on future developments. He would content himself with taking one step at a time.
“I think the plan has merit,” he said, finally. “But we need to develop all the details so nothing is left to chance. Also, the letter must be worded carefully so that we get the underlying message across without making any overt threats.”
“Of course,” responded Gucumatz smoothly. “It but remains for us to decide which of us will take the plan to King Darius.” He glanced at Rhea. “Will you, my Queen, use your incomparable charms to ensure the success of our plan?”
“I already told that I am not in favor of the scheme,” she muttered petulantly. “I do not believe I could play the role convincingly.”
“No matter...” Astraeus put in, relieved that his stepmother balked at the task. If he was going to develop his own strategy, it would be best if he kept himself in the middle of the negotiations. “The better idea is for me to be the one to approach my father. I could perhaps convince him where others might fail.”
“Really...!” The high priest’s black brows arched in surprise. “Well, then, I suggest that you lose no time in talking to him. The sooner we send the letter to Carrora the better our chances of bringing the plan to fruition before disaster strikes.”
For the next hour, the three of them went over the details of the plan and debated the wording of the letter. Finally, Gucumatz leaned back with a sigh of fatigue.
“I think that is all we can do for now,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “The final polish must wait until Darius gives his sanction to the idea. “Prince,” he glared piercingly at Astraeus, “I say again that you need to talk to your father as soon as possible.”
“Have no fear,” Astraeus responded. He pushed back his chair, stood up and stretched his muscular arms. “If I cannot get to him tonight, I will see him first thing in the morning.”
The three of them passed through the door of the chamber and entered a high-arched passageway, also cut from living stone, that ran in a straight line in both directions until lost in shadows. They separated, Gucumatz returning to his chambers, while Astraeus and Rhea walked to the elevator that would take them back up to the palace.
Once inside the lift, Astraeus pushed the button for the top floor.
“I wish there was another way to get the girl here without you having to marry her,” Rhea complained peevishly.
Astraeus encircled Rhea’s slender waist with his two hands and drew her to him. “You need not worry,” he replied easily. “Gucumatz’ plan is the best and quickest way to achieve our goal. If we attempted to take the princess and the secrets by force, not only would it take too much time, but King Amelius might escape with them both the way he did when my father attacked Alta.”
Rhea pressed her lush body against his muscular frame and raked her long nails across his shoulders. “Just do not forget where your best interests lie,” she murmured, her voice husky with desire.
Astraeus bent and pressed his mouth against hers. As he did so he ran his hand up under her gown, sliding his palm over the smooth expanse of her thigh and coming to rest in the silken patch between her legs. He grinned sardonically when he realized that she was naked underneath her gown. With his other hand, he reached over and pushed the button to stop the elevator.
Her hands trembling with passion, Rhea ripped open his tunic and ran her lips hungrily over his muscled chest. Astraeus slid his hands under her rear end, lifted her up, braced her against the wall then slid her down over himself. His mouth twisted in a cynical grin as she lost herself in sexual frenzy. Wrapping her legs around his hips, she impaled herself upon him in ever wilder and faster gyrations.
He matched his movements to hers, and there was more than a little cruelty in the way he thrust himself into her. As they peaked together, Rhea tore his tunic aside and sank her teeth into his shoulder, muffling her screams against his flesh. Plunging into her in long, brutal strokes, Astraeus exploded in a blinding rush that blurred the line between pleasure and pain.