Today was odd, nothing went to plan. Even though I had been expecting Mikado to come and get me, I wasn’t expecting the sight of his face hovering above my own, exuding his odorous breath directly into my nostrils. “Reks?” He queried, forcing the scent of old grog and rotted meat from countless nights of feasting, into my gasping mouth. I twitched and coughed the stink away; with no success.
I tried to wrestle him off me “What’re you…?” “Shh” He hissed, blocking my mouth with his hand. It was grimy and suctioned to my face “We have to move, we have to leave here now.” He said. Something in his eyes told me he had somehow managed to turn his entire village against him last night.
“What did you…?”
“SHHH” He asserted.
There was no beating him. His face was determined to hear as it listened for external disturbances. “Grab your gear, we’re leaving” All I could do was trust him, there was no way I was going to be able to sway the minds of the town I only just met.
Dawn was breaking as we left through the window of my cabin. We dashed northward into the morning mist settling over the forest’s floor. We ran for a while, without looking back, my feet had grown sore and the forest fell silent. I demanded we stop and Mikado tell me everything. We stopped to sit and he turned to me. “They were plotting against me Reks, ever since you bested me, all I could hear were whispers about my shortcomings, and rumours of how they would dispose of me.”
“Well that makes sense, but why drag me along?” I asked him “You’re different Reks, you know that? You’re like I was before I quit striding; ambitious, cluey, willing to do what is required to get to Sovereign City and become King. I think you’re going to do it. With my help though.”
All I could think of was how sly this guy was, and how this could easily be another ruse. “I hope you don’t think I’m in your debt Mikado…” I began sternly “…Because out here you don’t have the intimidation of a town of cronies behind you, and I will beat you down if you try anything.”
“That’s not it Reks, it’s been a long time since I wanted to be king, I won’t take that from you, I don’t think I could, even if I did want to. No, all I want is a promise… Be fair Reks, being on the outside of Tor I’ve seen and done some dark stuff, and those things punish my thoughts in the day and consume them at night, but if there had been someone like you, someone like who I was before, to show us the way, I think the darkness would be scared to look at us for a change.”
“That’s really all you want?” I asked with mild scepticism.
“That’s all I ever wanted, but I keep getting caught up in my own schemes.”
This felt like another scheme, but at the same time I could see sincerity in his eyes. I think Mikado, at some point in his life truly wanted to make The Sphere a better place, and I think like a lot of other people; life and life’s lusts got in the way.
“Oh, and I should probably tell you now, while I’m being honest… My goons weren’t really plotting to overthrow me.” “They what?” I snapped “Yeah sorry, another scheme.”
I was about to thrash him, then I realised, his deviousness would come in handy. In a world designed to pit people against people, his cunning could prove better than killing.
“I guess there’s no rush for us to meet the One-Kilometre Queen, we can take it easy now. But you should probably lead the way.” I wanted him to go ahead of me, there was no telling when he could turn on me, he could just be orchestrating another scheme. His face lit up with excitement. I think I may be the only person he’s encountered that has acknowledged his potential.
So, then Mikado led the way through the forest; with less haste than before, to the Queen’s village. We didn’t have to travel too far to get there; being the One-Kilometre Queen doesn’t give you much ground to cover. At the perimeter of her domain, we decided to split up and survey the village to assess our odds; he went clockwise and I went anti.
The Queen’s village was beautiful; a well-constructed oasis within the forest. The buildings reminded me a lot of Tor. This must be where all the crafters end up after coming face to face with the Sphere Scar. Mikado had mentioned the town was the last bastion before civilisation ends and the real stride starts, but seeing it. Not imagining it. Seeing it gave me great hope.
The town itself was set up like a grid, with each building surrounded by a path or road, allowing for full access to all sides. The houses all appeared to be the exact same size and shape, suggesting to me an equality amongst the citizens. I can’t even discern which is the Queen’s house; any other monarch would have a towering throne or monument to their importance, casting a shadow on all who worship beneath. It looked as though there’s no marketplace in the conventional sense, but each house had a vegetable garden either in the front or the back yard. I’m under the impression they share their resources.
The main road through the centre of town is littered with guards and in the middle, sits the second Diamond Gate on my Stride. Majority of the guardsmen are surrounding the gate; which was odd to me, the rest of the town gives the idea of unity, a real community oriented settlement, yet none of them appear to be able to go anywhere near the gate. What kind of laws did they have in place? And where the hell is Mikado? I asked myself. He should have met up with me by now. I thought.
Sure enough as I looked frantically around for him, he was the only one I could see walking down the main road towards the Diamond gate. Some guards confronted him, they exchanged words briefly and then he pointed up to me, and urged me to come down from my vantage point to meet them. I shrunk into a bush to hide like it was a reflex. I had no idea what he was planning, but my position was compromised so I had no choice, and I went down to meet him.
“So what these guards have been telling me, is that everyone here is equal, even the Queen, until you pass through the gate. Then you become an enemy of their peace, and they swarm us like” Mikado told me “But how can you be Queen if you’re equal?” I asked him “It’s like I was saying to you earlier; she’s just someone who shows them the way through the dark.” He replied.
I thought: perhaps without anyone even wanting to, the culture of Tor had seeped out into the sphere, I think having someone to turn to when conflict arises can give a great sense of security. As I pondered the mechanics of the town, I felt something shove me in the back ferociously. I had no chance to turn around and see who, they kept pushing me forward through the wall of caught-off-guard guards. We broke through their defences and passed the threshold of the Diamond gate. The pushing stopped. I looked to see who it was, and I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Mikado laughing and panting with his hands to his knees.
I was in shock at what he had done, I barely heard the whistles of the guards sound off into the distance, signalling a defiance of their laws, I just stared at him in disbelief as the rest of the guards scowled at us. I didn’t even see their spears come in from all directions to aim at our necks until it was too late.
Moments went by, Mikado’s giggles only slightly waned, the whole situation was hilarious to him, or there was something else in his emotion, anticipation? Or mania perhaps? And then through the crowded mass of the villagers come to see the spectacle came a petite woman with lava coloured hair and autumnal collage dress to match.
“MIKADO CENT” She roared.
How in all the Sphere did they know each other? I looked to Mikado, his eyes had glazed over and his face pinkened. “Czarina my love, it’s been a lifetime since we’ve seen each other”
“Yes it has been, but your banishment was meant to be eternal…” The situation suddenly became clear to me. Mikado had somehow betrayed the One-Kilometre Queen or sullied the sanctity of her laws, maybe this isn’t the first time he’s passed through the Diamond Gate. “…Why have you returned? And who is this you have with you, another fool you’ve roped into one of your scams?”
I couldn’t let Mikado speak for me, I think given too much time to speak he would dig both our graves with his mouth. “I’m Reks Twelve, and I’ve come through your town to complete the Sovereign Stride.” The villagers gasped and whispered among themselves. “Everyone, calm down” She urged “We have a system in place here Reks, one that allows every person to be the king or queen of their own, equally sized domain. I am merely a figurehead, a tie breaker, the woman with the final word. We’ve all agreed to abide by our own laws, which include never continuing our stride past this point. Since you had no idea about that, we can let your transgression slide, but for Mikado… Wait!…” She looked around “…Where did he go?!” She squawked. Her guardsmen fled into the crowd in all directions to search for him.
Czarina sighed “Come with me Reks, you should see this…” She said as she walked up to me and took my arm in her hands. She was gentle, yet commanding. Her small stature perfectly disguised her strength, and I felt she could easily subdue me if I gave her a reason. She walked me North, to the edge of her town and when we reached the tree line she let go and walked ahead of me. My curiosity was enough to compel me to follow, I could have easily ran but I wanted to hear her out.
She peeled away the foliage, the blinding sun ignited her hair to look like flames dancing in the wind. Her sun-kissed face looked back, her hand stretched out, she wanted me to join her on the precipice, and there it was in all its terrifying magnitude; the sphere scar. “This is what the last King made, the people of the One-Kilometre refuse to let those in power make any more decisions, that’s why we’re all in power, no one is lesser or greater, not even those who enforce our own laws. We can’t let you stride Reks, but we can offer you a place here, with us, to be your own King.”
“I really wish I could accept your offer Czarina, but the rest of the Sphere doesn’t agree with you, I need to do this for them.” I told her. Her head bowed for a moment, as though she was aware of what she needed to do next.
I could feel the energy around us change.
My heart raced.
We were going to fight.
She looked up. “I understand Reks, but I can’t let yo…” Was all she got out before her face changed to utter dismay. She tried to warn me of the danger behind, but no words came out. I was tackled from behind. I crashed into Czarina, wedged between her and our attacker we toppled over the edge of the Sphere Scar, down into the chasm.
I could feel something wrap around all of us as we fell, looking down I saw rope circling our waists, and then it struck me in the nostril, like a pungent punch to the face. “MIKADO!” I bellowed into the oncoming wind.
I passed out.
Damn him. I hope I’m not dead and stuck in this room forever. I don’t feel dead, I think. I suppose I can’t be too mad at him, he did progress us closer to the next Diamond Gate, and we’ve gained another companion, whether either of us like it or not. Tomorrow will be very interesting.
If I survive the Sphere Scar.