Ezulla the Princess of Shenkuu
From a distance, Shenkuu is filled with the deep greens of the grass and trees, bright blues from the flowing streams that lead to crashing waterfalls, and pale red-browns from the temples and shops that are placed all over the land. Looking closer, there are wooden bridges that cross over those flowing streams, beautifully pink cherry blossom trees, and royal purple jacaranda trees along with the vibrant green trees. Leaves fall freely from the trees, swaying back and forth before touching down to the ground or skimming across the water. At the top of the highest lush green hill stood a palace that could be seen from anywhere in Shenkuu. It was pale red-brown in color with a faded blue canopy over the entrance. It may not sound like much, but it was truly a sight to behold for those who have had the pleasure of seeing it.
Shenkuu is a place of a beauty, prosperity, peace, and tranquility. It's governed by a royal family - Balzar the King, Caza the Princess and eldest daughter, and Ezulla the Princess and youngest daughter. Balzar is a kind and gentle ruler, and he is beloved by his people. He has kept Shenkuu vibrant with life, full of peace, and a comfortable place to live for the past few decades.
At least, that's what life used to be like in Shenkuu. Tragedy took the land by surprise in the form of a horrifying curse. Nobody knows who or what cast that curse or even why they would do such a thing, but it put an end to the life everyone knew. War broke out between Shenkuu and their once neighboring alliance, Gallion. Balzar perished in the curse, along with several others who were never found. Caza seized the opportunity to take over the throne, immediately banishing Ezulla away from the palace and sending her into the army camp, expecting her to become another casualty of the war. This is where the story truly begins.
Ezulla, a young and determined Kacheek, stood on the platform at the army camp site. Her short black hair swayed in the wind as the army masters looked over their newest recruits. She had never been so uncomfortable in her life. Upon arriving at the camp, she was immediately forced into a back room for a "make over." They took her beautiful, long black hair and cut it short and took away her silk cherry blossom dress, replacing it with a warrior shirt, skirt, boots, and bracers. Now, she was made to stand on a platform and wait her turn to be sorted into a rank. From what she understood, there were 5 ranks; the best rank was 1 and the worst was 5. If you were placed in rank 1, the masters saw you as worthy to become one of them someday. If you were placed in rank 5, the masters saw you as so weak, they did not expect you to survive the first battle and therefore, they would not waste much of their precious training time on you. One by one, all the others in front of Ezulla was given their ranks. Finally, it was Ezulla's turn to hear her fate.
"Ezulla, rank 5. Report to the tent on your right immediately," one of the masters stated, motioning to a small black tent.
"But sir, with all due respect, I disagree. I'm capable of more than you give me credit for," Ezulla pleaded. She knew that being a rank 5 would mean she would not receive the proper weapons, training, or time from her masters.
"Prove it," the master replied as he looked to the masters on each side of him and laughed.
Ezulla stepped off the platform, toward the masters, and was handed a sword. Granted, she'd never had any training before, but she thought it seemed simple enough. All you really had to do was keep a hold of your sword and not let your opponent get a good shot in. One of the masters stepped forward and immediately began to duel her. It happened so fast that Ezulla didn't even know how she had wound up face first on the dirt. The masters were laughing so hard that one of them fell to the ground roaring with laughter. Completely humiliated, Ezulla pulled herself off the ground and walked over to the tent she was assigned to. As she made her way over, she swore that she'd prove herself worthy to her masters, her sister, her kingdom, and herself no matter what it took.
The first day of training was nothing like Ezulla expected. She was given a broken sword that was taller than she was and asked to watch as the rank 5 master demonstrated a few basic fighting techniques. She watched intently during his demonstrations. She wanted to remember everything vividly, knowing that as a rank 5, she would not be given the luxury of seeing this demonstrated for a second time. When it was her turn to mimic what she was shown, Ezulla stepped forward and faced her fellow recruits. With great effort, she managed to lift her sword above her head. She began to swing the sword forward, but instead of gracefully pointing it towards the chest of a would-be opponent; she lost control of it and watched it go flying across the field, narrowly missing a nearby master.
"Ezulla! You've proven yourself to be even more worthless than I imagined. Hand over your sword and report to the kitchen for dish duty," the rank 5 master screamed at her.
At this point, almost anyone else would have accepted defeat and given up. This only fueled Ezulla's desire even more. After completing dish duty and reporting to her tent for the night, she waited for her chance. Once she was sure that everyone else in the tent had fallen asleep, she snuck out of the camp, small sword-in-hand, running full speed with no idea where she was heading. She wanted to find a secret place where she could practice with a proper weapon and without being stared at by those who expected her to fail. Just across a bridge that covered a beautiful, flowing stream, Ezulla found a place well-hidden by colorful trees. Immediately, she knew this was the perfect place to practice. She stayed there until the earliest hours of the morning, repeating the same exercises that humiliated her in front of everyone earlier that day. As the sun began to rise, she knew she needed to get back to camp. If she was caught away from the camp without permission, she'd immediately be thrown into the dungeon.
Ezulla had just crawled into her sleeping bag when the sirens blared signaling that it was time for everyone to get up and report for early morning training. Tired but determined, Ezulla arrived at the training session. Her master asked that everyone practice what they'd been shown yesterday. When it was her turn to step forward and demonstrate for her fellow recruits, she swung her sword almost gracefully. Her master watched in disbelief and then left to speak with another master in the camp. When he returned, he informed Ezulla that she would was promoted and would now report to the rank 3 master. Ezulla squealed and jumped with glee, but upon seeing the disapproving look from her new master, she coughed and straightened up, a smile still sneaking through on her face.
Ezulla continued her routine of sneaking away in the night to her secret training grounds every other night – only allowing herself to sleep once every two nights. She continued to impress her master and soon moved up the ranks again to rank 2. At this point, Ezulla knew she had learned nearly everything she could and wanted to dedicate her time and attention solely to training, but she knew that she would never be granted permission to the leave the camp. So, one night after everyone was asleep, she packed what few belongings she still had in a knapsack, grabbed her favorite sword the weapons tent, and snuck away for the last time. She felt secure that nobody knew where her secret training grounds were, so she headed off in that direction.
After a few more weeks of training day and night on her own, Ezulla felt she was ready to face Caza and take back the kingdom, so she took the journey to the palace. As she stood outside of the palace walls, hidden in the bushes, she knew she would never be permitted to just walk inside. By now, Caza would have the kingdom completely under her control with guards stationed by every possible entrance. This fact would prevent anyone else from getting inside, but Ezulla knew the palace like the back of her hand. She'd grown up here and spent countless hours sneaking in and out of it as a child. She knew of a secret way to get inside through her old bedroom window, and she suspected that Caza would not have stationed a guard at that window.
As night came and created shadows for her to hide in, Ezulla snuck inside the wall surrounding the palace, went around back, and climbed up the wall into her old bedroom window. Quietly, she crept down the hall and into the master bedroom where she suspected Caza would be fast asleep. As she pushed the door open, a creaking sound rang through the room, awaking the sleeping Caza.
"Ezulla?! How on earth did you...? What did you...?" Caza exclaimed as she darted out of her bed, grabbed a staff sitting beside it as she did.
"You didn't really think it would be that easy to get rid of me did you? In the 20 years you've known me, grown up with me even, you should have known that I wouldn't allow any evil to fall upon the kingdom and its people," Ezulla explained, trying to keep her calm as best as she could in a situation like this.
"You just don't get it, do you? I had a vision. I had plans. Neither included you or our pathetic father," Caza said frantically as she waved her hands and the staff around in the air.
"Our father was not pathetic. He was a great man and a great king to the people. He was kind and compassionate. If he had any flaws, it would be that he was kind to a fault, which was probably the reason that curse destroyed the kingdom," Ezulla said sorrowfully.
"How dare you give our father credit for that brilliant curse? Didn't he ever teach you to give credit where credit is due? I was the one who cast the curse, and it was the best decision of my life. It was all a part of my greater plan," Caza yelled furiously.
"How could you?! That event devastated the kingdom and cost our father his life not to mention all the other countless lives lost. All so you could sit on the throne and play queen? You're the one who's pathetic, not our father," Ezulla replied angrily as she drew her sword and ran at Caza.
Before Ezulla could reach her sister, Caza hit the bottom of her now glowing staff on the floor. The staff sent Ezulla slamming forcefully against the room and into a wall. In tremendous pain, but greatly determined, Ezulla picked herself up off of the ground and ran at her sister a second time. Again, Caza hit her staff against the floor, but this time, Ezulla went flying out of the bedroom window and landed in a bush outside. Ezulla could barely stand from the pain, but managed to pull herself out the bush several minutes later. By this time, a guard was waiting to escort her from the kingdom. Humiliated and left with no choice, she left the kingdom and returned to her training grounds.
Left in devastating shock after confronting her sister, Ezulla spent several days thinking everything over. She couldn't believe that the carefree sister she grew up with was responsible for casting the curse that not only destroyed their kingdom but cost their father and many others their lives. Her sister had become her worst enemy and had to be defeated as she would take down any other enemy that stood between her and the kingdom. After spending an extended time in meditation, Ezulla came to the conclusion that this was not a battle she could win alone. While she was no doubt a more capable warrior than her sister, Caza possessed a magical staff capable of taking her down with one hit on the floor. It would take a small army to take down Caza once and for all.
Ezulla knew that coming up with a small army would be a daunting task. First of all, she would have to sneak around the land under the cover of night. After all, she had run away from the army base camp. If any of the recruits or masters found her, she would risk being thrown into the dungeon. Second, she would have to find people who were willing to rebel against the kingdom, risking their lives to do so. And finally, she would likely have to train these people since it was unlikely that they would be skilled warriors. Although the odds were stacked against her, Ezulla was not willing to give up. She knew it would be a time-consuming, exhausting task to prepare herself and an army of her own for a battle against Caza, but she knew that the price of not doing so was so much greater.
That night, Ezulla left her secret training grounds in search of some people who would be willing to stand beside her in battle. After a few hours of wondering around in what felt like circles, she came spotted a fire surrounded by tents in a clearing not far from where she stood. She debated whether she should approach or not. On one hand, it could be a unit of the army stationed there for the night. If this was true and she approached them, it would mean certain failure for her. On the other hand, this could be a group of rebels who were neither subjects of the kingdom nor recruits in the army. If this was the case, she might stand a chance of recruiting them to join her. She felt like she had no choice. If she didn't take the risk, she may never gain enough warriors to overthrow the kingdom. Ezulla decided her best bet was to come across as confident and fearless even though she was really unsure and even a little frightened. She wanted these people, whoever they are, to believe she was capable of fighting every one of them at once.
Ezulla marched forward to where the fire burned with her shoulders straight and her chin up. She could immediately feel at least a three dozen pairs of eyes looking her over as she began to address the crowd.
"Ahem," she cleared her throat as she began her speech. "My name is Ezulla. What the kingdom has become is a disgrace. I want to do something about it, but I can't do it alone. Is anybody here brave enough to stand beside me in the heat of battle?" She finished.
The crowd looked at each other one-by-one before bursting out in laughter. A larger man stepped forward to answer her question.
"Look Ezulla, was it? We're all for taking down the kingdom. Hey, we're even all out-casts, banished from the kingdom by Caza herself. But, we don't know nothing about fighting, so I'm afraid we ain't gonna be of any help to you," the man replied.
"I can train you. I'm sure of it. I've gone through training myself and am quite capable of handling a weapon," Ezulla said to the crowd with a note of confidence.
"Ummm...." the man began as he looked back at the faces in the crowd, some nodding yes and some nodding no. "What we got to lose? But if you ain't as good as you say and we don't think we can do, we ain't gonna do. Deal?" He decided for himself and the rest of the people.
"Deal," she nodded and then gave them the directions to where they could find her the following afternoon to begin their training.
Ezulla returned to her training grounds. This group was not ready to win any battles, but this was a start. She knew she had a lot of work ahead of her, but she was hopeful her plan would work. Over the next two weeks, she put her new recruits through a vigorous training course, preparing them for every possible outcome. Finally satisfied that her new army was as ready as it ever would be, Ezulla formed a plan to storm the castle and take back her kingdom. One dozen men would attack from the front, keeping the guards who watch over the main gate busy. The other two dozen men would come from the sides, making a clear path for Ezulla. Ezulla herself would sneak straight down the middle and confront Caza again on her own.
That night, Ezulla and her army entered Shenkuu and began to carry out the plan. Swords clanged against one another as steel hit steel. Battle cries and shouts could be heard from great distances. Ezulla once again entered Caza's bedroom only to find Caza sitting there waiting for her with her staff in hand.
"I knew it was you. Nobody would be foolish enough to storm my castle, except you. I let you off easy last time out of the kindness of my heart, but this time, I will not spare you," Caza sneered.
"Caza, this is your last chance to repent and walk away. If you do not, I will have to use force," Ezulla stated calmed.
Caza began to laugh, not believing that pathetic little Ezulla could possibly be any kind of a threat to her. She motioned for Ezulla to come over, turned her cheek, and offered to let Ezulla take the first blow. Ezulla did not move from her place by the doorway but placed her hand over her sword and waited to see what Caza's next move would be.
"You always were the weak one," Caza responded as she slammed the bottom of her staff on the floor. Ezulla was thrown into the dresser across the room, sliding down as she landed with a sigh. Caza laughed so hard that she doubled over. In great pain but unwilling to give up so easily, Ezulla forced herself up, drew her sword, and ran at Caza. She successfully landed a slash on Caza's arm, forcing her to cry out and lose her grip on the staff. Immediately, Ezulla dropped her sword and grabbed the staff from the floor. Holding the staff in both hands, she lifted her knee, and forced the staff across it, shattering it into dozens of pieces. Just then, Ezulla's army joined her, taking Caza into their custody to lead her down to the dungeons.
The next day, Ezulla was crowned the rightful heir and given the title of Queen of Shenkuu. The army that faithfully helped her secure her position remain at her side as her official guard.