“Tales from Nimbus” is an ongoing series of shorts that expands the world of Nimbus in ways the novel’s main narrative cannot.
Even though the sun was up, Altza felt that he could sleep a bit longer. But Elden hadn’t stopped nudging him, so he had given in. Outside, however, the day was gloomy. Lately, things were always gloomy, but there was something about today that left a particularly twisted feeling in Altza’s chest.
“It’s not that bad,” Elden said. He nodded at the others, all making their way toward the statue at the center of the acropolis. “One quick bow, and we get to start our day. Things could be worse.”
Altza scoffed. “Do you ever get tired of being so optimistic?”
Elden just smiled. “When I’m gone, that’s probably the thing you’ll miss most about me.”
Upon seeing the statue up close, the twisted feeling in Altza’s chest moved down into his stomach. He could still remember when the idea of a statue erected in the Interloper’s honor would have seemed like a joke. He might have even laughed at the thought. But not anymore.
“Come to pay your respects?” asked Ira, who appeared on their left. She wasn’t smiling, but it was hard for Altza not to hear the sardonic tone in her voice. “I didn’t think Altza bowed for anyone.”
“I don’t,” Altza said. He looked around. The acropolis was crowded, but he couldn’t see Malrok. Leave it to the Interloper to be absent from his own induction ceremony. Not that it mattered; the entire event was a sham anyway, completely arranged by the Interloper himself.
Elden kissed Ira lightly on the cheek. “It’s good to see you again.”
“I bet it is,” Ira said, and her smile widened.
A large group of guards arrived at the statue, all of them looking tough and humorless. Altza glanced around, but he still couldn’t see Malrok anywhere. Maybe I’ll get lucky, he thought. Maybe the treacherous bastard will stay at home.
“I hear about fourteen workers died while building that sculpture for him,” Ira told them, nodding toward the statue. “But he wouldn’t let them stop, not until it was perfect.”
“That’s appalling,” Elden said. His jaw was set. “We should have won the war.”
“You should tell that to the Uprisers,” Altza said. He was still focused on the guards that were circled around the statue. “They look like a cheery bunch.”
“You’ve got to admit,” Ira said. “It’s not a bad statue.”
Altza had always liked Ira, but right now he found her revolting. “Are you serious?” he asked, his eyes still on the statue. “I hope I live to see the bronze turn green. It won’t look so shiny then.”
“You should tell that to the Uprisers,” Elden said.
“Or better yet,” said Ira, “tell that to the Interloper.”
“Damn the Interloper,” Altza said, “and damn his statue!”
There were a few gasps from around the acropolis, and everyone’s eyes seemed to fall on Altza. That twisted feeling in his stomach got tighter.
Then, Altza saw him—carried on a litter which had just reached the statue. Malrok.
If the look on the Interloper’s face was any indication, he had heard exactly what Altza had said.
Several guards came over and dragged Altza to the statue. The crowd parted for them.
“Do you not like my statue?” Malrok asked. He twirled a thin finger through the air. “I believe you also said something about me?”
Altza tried not to make eye contact. He was certain he was about to die, but he didn’t want to look like a coward in front of everyone. He would be brave. To the bitter end.
“Are you aware that I forbade anyone from calling me the Interloper ever again?” Malrok asked. His teeth glinted in the sunlight. “That is a crime punishable by death.”
Altza looked back at the statue. “I’ll live to see that thing lose its luster. And I’ll be here when it’s torn down.”
“You think you sound so brave,” Malrok said, his hand reaching for something in the litter. “But to everyone else, you simply sound like a fool.”
“Stop!” Elden called from the crowd. For once, Altza saw that his brother looked scared. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying! He’s just a child!” He looked at Altza and frowned. “You don’t always have to play the hero, Altza.”
“Yes, I do. And I know exactly what I’m saying,” Altza said, turning to look directly at Malrok. “You can call yourself a king, but you’ll always just be an interloper. A liar. A thief.”
The earth shook.
The skies parted, and the sun became so bright that Altza was temporarily blinded. When he regained a bit of his eyesight, he saw that everyone was running in a frenzy.
The fog thinned, which made it difficult for him to breathe, but Altza also noticed some strange creatures moving through the acropolis. They walked upright, their arms and legs covered in strangely colored clothing. They had thick hides, and some of them had hair like animals.
He felt someone grab him by the arm. It was Elden.
“What are those things?” Altza asked.
“Monsters,” Elden said.