The man known as the Elephant, if man he was, crept through the old city. Thick clouds obscured the planet’s two moons, deepening the nighttime shadows. Arriving at the castle wall, he paused at an ancient door and knocked twice, then thrice more. Bolts rattled, and the wooden portal creaked inward.
The hooded figure squeezed his enormous bulk through the opening. The Elephant had paid the guard generously for his treachery—but the unfortunate would never live to spend his blood money. With little effort and no remorse, he snapped the guard’s neck. He ignored the corpse as it slumped to the floor.
The Elephant raised a hand-held device, and a beam of red light illuminated the dark and musty corridor. He proceeded ahead, navigating the labyrinthine passageways. The route he had memorized led him to the royal quarters.
A pair of the king’s guards warily watched his approach. The floor-length robe covering his corpulent girth concealed his legs and feet, giving the impression of a large sphere draped in silk floating across the cobblestones. The guards’ eyes grew wide with fear as they recognized the face on the gliding figure.
For the man was dubbed the Elephant not only for his size, but also for his elongated proboscis, a birth defect which worsened with age. After four decades, his nose dangled below his chin. Anyone seeing his face would know him immediately. Anyone would know they had met the planet’s most notorious assassin.
The moment the guards realized their peril was all the Elephant needed. He adjusted his weapon and fired two beams of green light, enough to stun but not kill.
Approaching the king’s bedchamber, he adjusted his weapon to its most powerful setting and pounded on the door.
“Your Highness,” he bellowed. “We have a crisis.” Without waiting, he burst into the room.
Eliminate the most serious threat first.
The king leapt from his bed and reached for his weapon but was too late. His last breath sighed through the gaping hole in his chest as a purple beam of energy passed completely through him. The tapestry behind him burst into flames and the reek of burning flesh filled the chamber.
A furious scream caused the assassin to turn. The Queen had grabbed her broadsword, a short but lethal weapon polished to mirror brightness. She came from a race of warriors, and he expected her to fight.
She deflected his first beam with her gleaming sword. The queen poised the weapon vertically, holding the hilt with both hands, the wide blade covering one eye, leaving one exposed, blazing in hate.
He fired again, and again she blocked it. This time the light beam reflected off her sword and back at her attacker. The pulse of purple energy bounced off the Elephant’s torso, burning a hole in his garment, but otherwise leaving him unharmed. The Queen’s puzzled look turned to surprise as his third shot sliced her arm off at the shoulder, and her sword clattered to the stone floor. The final beam cut her in two.
Now for the children.
The metallic band on Corson’s wrist buzzed angrily. He reined his mount to a standstill, as did his two companions. He stared at the tiny screen and tensed. Two of the five lights flashed red. Gold for the living royals. Blinking red for the dead. As he watched, another golden light winked out and flashed scarlet.
His two teenage charges had identical wristbands. Their faces paled with the realization that the king and queen were dead. Not only were their parents gone, but their older brother the crown prince was dead as well.
Corson focused on their situation. “William. Veronica. You are both in great peril. We must seek safety.”
The boy gripped the reins of his mount. Upon the deaths of his father and older brother, sixteen-year-old William was now king.
“What do you advise, Corson?”
The sword master had only one answer. They were outside the city walls, returning from a night of hunting. If they left the capital, the kingdom would succumb to anarchy, and the planet would lose its position in the galaxy.
“We must speed to the Royal Tower. To the Crown Room.”
William nodded. “The Crown is the power,” he said, repeating one-half the ancient mantra.
The young king’s tow-headed sister wiped a tear from each eye. With lips quivering, she took a deep breath. “The Crown is the power,” she said.
Corson wheeled his mount and galloped to the west wall, away from the main gate. The two youngsters followed.
The trio emerged from the secret passage behind a set of gold-fringed drapes. Corson silenced the two young royals with a gesture. He peeked around the draperies and confirmed they were alone.
“Let us seize the Crown and depart,” young King William whispered.
Corson was about to agree when heavy footsteps echoed up the staircase. “Remain here until it is safe,” he ordered.
As their mentor and trainer, Corson was used to instructing them in the ways of combat and military strategy. He realized with a shock he could no longer issue commands to the young king. If they survived the night, he would beg the royal’s forgiveness.
He stepped from behind the curtains and strode into the circular room. A crystalline display case sparkled in torchlight. Within the case the Iridium Crown, the source of the kingdom’s power, glowed in the dimness.
The main doors slammed open, and the Elephant marched into the room.
“I might have known,” Corson said. “This treason has your stench all over it.”
“It’s the smell of victory,” the large man replied. “Stand aside, Corson.”
The swordsman remained impassive. “You’ve gained weight,” he said.
The Elephant raised his eyebrows. “Is that all you can say?”
“I’m surprised,” Corson said, and shrugged. “I I’d have thought by now your snout would interfere with eating. I expected you to be leaner.”
The Elephant jeered at the smaller man, “You always were a smart-mouthed brat. Let’s see if your jibes help you now.” He raised his weapon and pressed a button.
“The Crown’s power supersedes your tech, Elaph. Only the old ways work in the Tower.” Corson aimed an ancient mechanical device at the large man and pulled the trigger. The weapon roared, and a projectile ricocheted off the large man’s midsection. Frowning, Corson fired twice more, with the same result.
“Osmium armor!” he exclaimed. “So it’s not all fat. You always were a cheat.”
Elaph scoffed “And you were always a weakling. You never bested me when we were children. What makes you think you can do so now?”
“I have right on my side,” he said.
Elaph sneered. “That won’t save you this night. Time to die, Little Brother.” He launched himself at Corson.
Corson lashed out with his sword, but it clanked uselessly against the Elephant’s impervious armor. The large man wrapped his massive arms around his smaller sibling and squeezed. Corson squirmed hopelessly in his grasp as breathing became difficult.
A screeching blonde banshee streaked in and dove at the Elephant’s legs, knife flashing in her hand. The large man grunted and fell to one knee.
The young red-headed king attacked from above.
Corson was eye-to-eye with his brother when William sliced the Elephant’s throat with his razor-sharp dagger. Elaph growled, gurgled, and expired. Corson, drenched in his sibling’s blood, watched the light fade from his brother’s eyes as the larger man’s grip relaxed, and they both slid to the floor.
Princess Veronica helped Corson to his feet, her eyes bright with exhilaration.
“I remember telling you to stay behind,” he croaked.
“We thought of it as more of a suggestion, than an order,” she said. “You always taught us to think for ourselves.”
Shattering crystal reverberated throughout the Tower. Corson turned to see William reach into the display case for the Crown and place it on his head.
Footsteps thundered up the stairway. A phalanx of guards charged into the room, swords to the ready. The king, Corson, and the princess prepared themselves for battle.
“The King is dead!” announced the group’s leader. “We’re here to retrieve the Crown.”
Corson pointed at the boy, whose whole body glowed with the power of the Iridium Crown. “Long live the King!” he said.
“The Crown holds the power…” the princess intoned, pointing her sword at her brother.
The leader of the guards completed the age-old chant. “…and the King wears the Crown.”
In unison, the guards bent to one knee and pointed their swords at King William. “The Crown holds the power, and the King wears the Crown,” they repeated with one voice.
The young king raised his sword. “We shall re-take the castle,” he vowed, “We shall defend the kingdom!” He turned to his former mentor. “Corson. You are now captain of the king’s guards. We shall lead these men together.”
Corson regarded his pupil and smiled.
The King is dead. Long live the King.
Note: A version of this story won 2nd Place in the Granbury Writers’ Bloc monthly contest in March 2019.