Chapter 2:

If there was one thing he hated more than anything in this world, it was dirt. King Garland kept his servants busy with constant cleaning and scrubbing, but he could still see the filth clinging to ever available surface like a grimy veil. Walking down the hallway, he constantly found himself lifting up his robes so as to not allow the fabric to sweep upon the floor. He supposed it was to be expected from living in such a dirty, dusty area.

He paused in his musings as he took a moment to examine his appearance in a hanging mirror and frowned deeply. He didn't look like one would expect of a king. Nature had made him a small man with narrow, slightly-rounded shoulders. More recently, his stomach had begun to protrude over the waistband of his pants. He tried to hide this with a different cut and style of clothing, but he feared that only emphasized the problem. Sighing slightly, he turned his attention from his abdomen to his hair. In his youth, his hair had been thick, dark, and wavy and a source of pride, but now his hair had grown so thin that parts of his pink scalp were visible. Only his eyes still pleased him. His eyes were so dark that the pupils blended almost seamlessly into the irises, and those dark orbs had reduced many a man to a quivering creature. He felt, however, that the power of his eyes did little to make up for the flaws in his appearance. Even now in his finest clothes and jewels, he looked like an imposter disguised as a king – a scrawny rooster dressed in a peacock's feathers.

Finally, he tore his eyes away from his own reflection to continue his walk. Oddly enough, as soon as he walked away from the mirror he could forget what he actually looked like and picture himself as his ideal image of a regal and handsome king. His narrow shoulders were held proudly as he stepped upon the balcony and looked down upon his kingdom.

He gazed down in disgust at the miserable farms dotted across like weeds struggling to survive in the hard, rocky ground. It was all his land in actuality. His great-grandfather Raymond, the first king of this forsaken land, had secured it.

According to the stories, Raymond had seen the war coming. While some had stockpiled wealth, Raymond had stored up food and supplies. After the Great War, money was useless, but food was still a necessity. Raymond had traded meager supplies of food for land and loyalty. In the end, Raymond had set himself up as king. All of the crops harvested were collected as taxes with only a small portion given back to the farmers: a system that was still firmly in place. These ignorant people, who seemed content to remain dirty and filthy, were actually dependent on his generosity. King Garland's lips curled in disgust as he looked past the farms to the desert.

It was said that bombs had changed the face of the land, but the desert had existed for as long as Garland could remember. An intolerable stretch of arid, scorching land, no one knew how wide it was or if there was even an end to it. It was possible there were people living on the other side, but it was doubtful if he would ever know for sure. For now, this pathetic kingdom was his entire world. It was his reality.

The sound of footfalls interrupted his musings, and he glanced over his shoulder at the guard behind him. Although his features were nearly completely hidden by his squared helmet and brightly colored uniform, King Garland knew the man's identity.

"What is it, Alexander?" he asked in a bored tone.

"Sire," replied Alexander, captain of the guard, "Celia wishes to see you. She has had one of her dreams."

King Garland suddenly felt weak, and he gripped the balcony for support. He took several deep breaths and tried to steel his nerves before answering. "Is that so?" he finally returned, successfully masking the tremble in his voice. "Well, we should go see her then." Gathering his robes about him, the king turned and walked calmly towards the tower room where Celia had resided for many years. Without saying a word, Alexander followed.

Upon reaching the heavy wooden door to her chamber, King Garland knocked once and, without waiting for an invitation, opened the door and stepped inside. Celia was standing in the center of her sparse, humble room, and it appeared that she had been waiting for him.

While the king worried that his appearance didn't suit someone of his position, Celia could have easily passed for royalty. Although he was not certain of her exact age, he knew that she had served his father and, therefore, was not a young woman. Still, her statue was straight and slender, and her face was remarkably smooth. The passing of time had greyed her hair, which was pulled back in a flawless braid that hung down the back of her simple, green dress. As always, the king felt a little intimidated by her, but tried not to allow it show.

"I understand you have had a dream," King Garland said in lieu of an introduction.

"Yes, your majesty," Celia returned, her voice soft and melodic, "A most disturbing dream in fact."

"Well, out with it then," he commanded.

She took a deep breath and clasped her hand together like a schoolgirl preparing to recite a lesson. "I saw a child born, but not born to any woman. This child came from a womb within the Earth. While still young, this child was given power by the Earth and rose up to destroy you." Her brown eyes watched the king steadily as she finished speaking.

"What does that mean?" demanded the king, "Some child is supposed to destroy me?"

"It's difficult at terms to interpret dreams," Celia answered, "But that is what I feel the dream meant. As you know, my dreams have always been reliable in the past."

King Garland had to admit that much was true. Part of his power stemmed from the fear that he seemingly had the ability to know things of which he shouldn't have any knowledge, and this came from listening to Celia's dreams. "When will this child be born?" he asked, "Or has it already been born? Is it a male or female child?"

Celia shook her head. "Those things were not revealed to me," she admitted, "The child may already be born or perhaps it has yet to happen, nor do I know the gender."

Then there is only one thing to be done," the king stated evenly, "All the children must be killed."

"Sire!" Alexander cried. It was the first time the guard had made any sound since entering Celia's chamber.

"Do you question my words?" King Garland demanded.

"No sire," Alexander immediately answered, "I was only thinking of…" His voice trailed off.

"Of?" prompted the king.

"Of the young prince," Alexander quickly replied.

"The young prince," King Garland repeated. Without another word, he hurriedly left Celia's room and stomped down the hallway, leaving Alexander running to catch up to him. A small, cynical part of the king's mind recognized he had done quite a bit of walking today, but he pushed the thought aside as he made his way to the room where his young son, Prince Rondalm, was playing.

Upon his entering the room, the prince quit his toys and immediately ran over to his father. Normally, King Garland would have shoved the boy away as he couldn't stand to be touched by the child's grimy hands, but he allowed the boy to grab onto his leg as he looked down upon him. Unfortunately the child had seemingly inherited most if not all of his features.

Alexander stepped into the room, and the king greeted him with a thin smile. "I suppose it would be fitting," King Garland began, "that the fall of my kingdom originate inside these very walls." He laughed bitterly at the horrified look in Alexander's dark eyes before continuing. "Of course, I can't really do anything to my son," he announced, "I have no other heirs and it is unlikely that my sickly excuse for wife will have another son. However, I can't stand idly by and allow some child to destroy me. I can't kill all the children, but something must be done to remove the threat."

"Sire?" Alexander asked.

King Garland snapped his fingers as smile adorned his features. "I have it!" he cried, "We'll use the mines!"