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The Tale of the Empress

The town has gathered again, for the second time this year. “Is this really happening again?” someone from the crowd exclaimed. From down in the valley they could feel the giant, marble stone doors overgrown with vines and moss slide across the huge tiled floor of the empress’ temple. “She’s coming” whispers the woman next to me. But this time it feels like it’s different.

Suddenly, thick black clouds appear over the temple and its valley completely masking the moonlight that gave hope to the townsfolk. I hear the giant door slam shut. The people start trembling and shaking in fear of the empress that was on her way down. Her giant, double-edged great sword is sliding through the grooves that her sword had engraved into the steps of the temple stairs.

I can hear her footsteps echo, the gnawing sound makes my bones slightly vibrate.
Someone from the crowd taps me on the shoulder: “The temple stairs have never been counted fully, the rumor going around is that it counts more than two thousand steps. I’ve been up there once, I tried to count them all but lost count when I stumbled over the shackles around my ankles.” You doubt this has any significance, as you had never heard of one to survive the climb up to the temple.

“My name is Ambrose. Let’s hope we survive this strange occurrence.” he whispers to you, as he walks over to the other side of the gathered crowd. Ambrose looked strikingly tall and bulky next to the other townsfolk but even his height could not keep him from blending into the crowd.

A strange occurrence it was, as the empress would never set foot into the valley of the townsfolk to my knowledge. The thick black clouds start dripping a strange and sticky fluid onto the ground.
Minutes go by, and a tall figure makes it’s way down from the temple. It’s the empress. Only the town elderly had seen the empress up close, as the last time she came down was over ninety years ago. She’s almost down the last set of stairs as she skips over multiple steps at once to make her way down even faster. The moon is no where to be seen, the only light coming from the torches lit by the townsfolk.

Finally the empress had reached the valley of the townsfolk. I inspect the empress. The only two discernable clothing pieces she’s wearing that I can see from this distance is a discolored mantle she must’ve gotten from her father and the holy crown forged by a foreign king that had visited these lands over a century ago. I dare not look at the eyes of the empress as tales went around that catching a glimpse from the empress would instantly stop the beating of your heart.

The empress’ skin is pale, as if her skin was void of any blood that would give her an even slightly pink-ish skin tone. She looks like she hasn’t eaten in centuries, her skin has caved into the grooves of her skull.

Guards gather around the townsfolk, as if the frightening empress was not enough of a presence to cause the crowd to quiet down. Normally, we receive food rations every year from the temple grounds when they had leftovers and as a courtesy the empress would look down at us from the top steps of the temple. The guards seem to have formed a circle around me and the crowd I’m standing in.

Moments of silence go by, when a guard steps upon a tall stand. He looks like he’s waiting for his cue to speak to us. Another guard walked up behind me. “What do they want? We have nothing to offer you!” screamed a lady from the crowd. The guard behind me grabs her by the hair and drags her away. “Help! Please, anyone!” she yells. Misconduct was not tolerated, so I choose to ignore her screams.
“Attention everyone! When you hear your name, step forward and form a line in front of the town’s flagpole!” the guard yelled. The flagpole is roughly four meters away from the empress. The people around me start visibly shaking, mumbling sentences like “What does she want from us?” and “Please have mercy!” - Is something horrible about to happen? But our fair empress could not possible do us any harm.

The calling of names has begun.

“Balthasar Browne, to the front!”.
“We should have known this was about Balthasar, he is nothing more than a troublemaker.” an elderly woman next to me exclaimed. Balthasar is as the woman next to me said a troublemaker, he would set fire to our crops in an attempt to starve the townsfolk and he tried to rob anyone and everyone whenever the guards weren’t looking. But he would never get apprehended as his father is Ferdinand Gregory, captain of the empress’ royal guard – so I doubt anything bad will happen.

Balthasar makes his way to the front of the line. In front of him stands the empress, she’s a beautifully haunting sight to behold. Balthasar looks like a dwarf compared to the empress who appeared to be at the least three meters tall. A guard comes running over carrying an almost perfectly rectangular piece of stone. God that must weigh a ton! The guard lays the stone with the utmost care right in front of Balthasar’s feet, he seems to be smirking as he walks off back into formation.

“Balthasar Browne, you stand accused of crimes against the empress. What say you in your defense?” the guard asks him. “My fair lady, I would not dare tarnish your beautiful image in my lifetime! What is this crime you accuse me of?” Balthasar screams at the soaking wet dirt he stands upon, he dare not look the empress in the eye.

The gathered townsfolk around me appear to be shocked “Did he just speak to the empress without being spoken to by her highness?” some whisper. Ferdinand Gregory captain of the royal guard wearing his royal golden-red armor looks in the general direction of the empress (trying to avoid her eyes). The empress nods at him.

Ferdinand walks over to position himself behind his troublesome son Balthasar. Ferdinand whispers something into his son’s ear and beckons him to crouch down and lay his head on top of the rectangular stone. Moments go by and Balthasar still stands tall, not a single bend to be detected in his posture. Ferdinand kicks him in the back of his legs so that he falls down into the position he requested from his son.

Her highness the empress walks over to Balthasar, as if she has already decided his fate. I’m holding my breath that what I think is going to happen is not going to happen. The empress stares with a blank expression at Balthasar and then looks around the crowd that has gathered around the town square.
Suddenly and with one quick motion she lifts her giant double-edged great sword and swings it rapidly to the neck of Balthasar, decapitating him cleanly. The floor fills up with a giant pool of his blood, pouring from his neck.

The rounded up crowd is stunned by this occurrence. Our town's prophet exclaims that this will be the end of us all. 

No one speaks a word. Everyone is anxiously awaiting what will happen next. After all, Balthasar was a lousy criminal that most of us despised meaning this should be all that will happen, right?

A few silent but incredible tense moments go by.

“Genevieve Webb, to the front!” The same guardsman that yelled for Balthasar's presence now beckons Genevieve Webb to make an appearance. Everyone gasps.
“Genevieve is a humble lady who would not dare harm a fly, she’s the town weaver for god’s sake!” an elderly woman next to me exclaimed.

Genevieve is a pretty girl, not much older than I am. I used to sneak out with her after the curfew to stare at the small lights in the sky. Now I regret not having told her that I liked her a lot - I hope nothing bad happens.

“Genevieve Webb, you stand accused of crimes against the empress. What say you in your defense?” the guard asks her. Genevieve has already made her way to the execution block. The guards follow her with their eyes as she kneels down onto the blood red pool of Balthasar's blood, laying her head upon the same block which just helped murder Balthasar. She's very visibly crying. "Do it. But know that I will curse every single one of you, and this murderess wench we call an empress!"

In one quick motion Genevieve is sentenced to the same fate as Balthasar.

The name calling continues for the bigger part of the night.
The crowd has slimmed down to only a fraction of the size it was when we were initially rounded up. I'd say there's probably only twenty-something people left, not counting myself. The bodies of all the executed townsfolk started to pile up. One by one the decapitated heads were carried all the way to the top of the temple by the royal guards, they're carrying giant sacks filled with them. The sacks were stained with the blood still oozing out of the heads.

The empress holds up one of the heads, staring at it with a blank expression. This head was not finely cut from it's torso. A part of this person's spine was broken and fractured as the empress did not cut through the bone marrow on her first attempt. His screams still echo in my head as the execution fails.

Dark clouds had gathered when we initially gathered, but the same dark clouds were starting to clear, revealing parts of the moon. Slowly the town square was lighting up again. The empress seems satiated. She turns around elegantly in one quick motion as her mantle whips around her, revealing a slight bit of her thigh - but if my eyes do not deceive me, she has no skin under her garments! 

Eventually nightfall sets again. The town square had dispersed and everyone had fled home. No one dared speak a word to one another. What was the cause of this? Will this happen again tomorrow?

A full day passes. I had returned to my home in this time, thinking of a plan to find out why this massacre had happened. I peer through my windows seeing if any of the guards are still on patrol. They had dozed off so I silently open my back door and made my way to the town square. You might be wondering what my plan is? Well, I will forcefully climb the stairs to the empress' temple and find her. I must know what is going on.

As I set foot upon the first step of the seemingly endless staircase, my stomach sinks. But I need to do this. Not for myself, but for every single one of my friends and fellow townsfolk that were slain yesterday.

Hours pass as I make my way up to the entrance of the temple. Even if I was to make it all the way up the stairs, I hadn't given any thought to how I was to enter the gigantic temple. It's doors are giant and will only open with enough force. I'm not strong enough to push them open. We haven't been fed since last week.

At this point I'm halfway up the stairs. Ambrose really hadn't exaggerated about the number of steps this staircase counts. I had lost track at five-hundred-nineteen-something of them.
Eventually I managed to get inside. One of the guards had left the giant door open. I peer inside the temple and see a room that resembles a dining hall, the table barely made but the plates were dressed with the decapitated heads from the execution. A few seconds later, I see a growing shadow coming towards the dining hall. It's presence is haunting me, it must be the empress. 

And it was.

Her three meter high posture emerges from the doorway leading to the dining hall. I try to hide away from her seeing me so I take a step back behind the giant doorway, but I can't keep my eyes off of her.
She sits down at the head of the table and grabs her cutlery. Not a fork and knife, but two sword sharp knives is what she holds. One of the royal guards brings her a plate with a cloche on it. As the guard unsheathes the cloche from the plate, the head of Ambrose is revealed. "What is wrong with this wretched wench?" I whispered to myself.

I can see the empress using her knives daintily to cut apart the tendrils of Ambrose's brain, sticking the knives in the loosened tendrils.
She moves the knife holding a piece of Ambrose's brain towards her mouth. Even from this far away I can see that her teeth have been long rotting away inside of her mouth, her gums were a grey color instead of a normal pinkish red. The piece of brain on her knife was oozing with blood and liquid. She seemed to slightly regain a bit of color in her gums after having taken her fifth or sixth bite of juicy brain meat.

A few minutes pass. In this time the empress had finished her meal, managing to completely clean the skull of Ambrose and his brain cavity. She stands up and walks down towards the doorway she originally came from. 

I'm going to follow her. I am such a fool.
But what's the worst that could happen? What would await me was the same fate that my fellow townsfolk had suffered. But at the least an execution is quick and fairly painless. If the empress chops my head off in one strike, that is.
Do my eyes deceive me? 

I stand right in front of the empress now, she has her eyes closed and it looks like her head is attached to some sort of aquarium by a series of tubes and pumps. Her robes are no longer hiding her body. Her state of being seems to be as no one would have ever expected. We had been curious for centuries, wondering how she had stayed alive for all this time. It seems the flesh on bones is no longer there, she is now only held together by her withering away skeleton. I can see her ribcage struggling to hold her head up.

I must tell the other townsfolk what I have just seen. As I turn around, I hear the harsh sounds of bones cracking. It's the empress, she has waken up and is now staring me down with a shocked expression! Her eyes filled with rage. 

My feet are starting to tremble. I can feel the temple losing it's structural integrity and the bricks inside of the walls are starting to fall out. The empress lets out an ear deafening screech.

I must escape!
I managed to find a dilapidated trapdoor in the corner of a hallway. It feels like it weighs as much as a wheelbarrow full of tipped cows! The empress' screech has pierced my ear drums, my face is now covered with blood and I can barely stand up straight anymore. But with all the adrenaline in my body I open the trapdoor and fall down in there.

It looks to be an old escape route, dug out when the royal family still lived in the temple.

I collapse in the mine. 

My face is soaked in red blood.

I can't go on.

But I have to.

Making-of and storyboarding: https://hervorm.com/eigenblik-p3/
The Tale of the Empress


The Tale of the Empress


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