Chapter 1:


Grand Epic Elemental

The wind whistled across the dunes as a trade caravan made its way westward.

At the front was a man on horseback. He wore a dark brown cloak and the veil of his wide-brimmed weimao shielded his face from the windblown sand. Behind him was a long line of horses, merchants, and their precious cargo.

The heat was oppressive and the days monotonous. They had trekked for weeks, spending the nights at caravanserai when they were available and camping out under the night sky when they were not.

However, things were looking more hopeful today. Beyond the mountains on the horizon was their destination Ishkhandar, the capital of the Western Region.


Marble columns with fluttering banners lined the streets. Children kicked up clouds of dust and flower petals as they played in the corridors. Musicians tapped their drums in the corners of the plaza. Vendors hawked their wares in the bazaars.

The scent of freshly baked flatbread wafted in the air. There were stalls with bins of dried dates, raisins, pistachios, and walnuts. Across the way were greengrocers with tables full of lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and eggplants. A mountain of watermelons stood in front of another stall. Colorful patterned fabrics hung from clotheslines stretched across the alleyways.

It was late afternoon when the caravan passed through the city gates. However, rather than going to the bazaars, they headed directly to the palace at the city's center.

The palace walls were covered with blue and green mosaic tiles and golden swirls. Silk sashes fluttered from the top of the tall columns that flanked the main gate. As they passed through the gate, the cloaked figure took off his weimao, revealing a man in his early twenties with gracefully curved phoenix eyes and waist-length black hair tied in a ponytail.

His name was Leiyu, and he was the bodyguard of the caravan.

Palace attendants led them to the stables where their cargo was unloaded. Leiyu was drinking water from his flask when another attendant approached them.

“His Majesty the King wishes to personally greet you all,” he said.

Leiyu’s eyes widened and he turned to the other merchants. They looked back at him and at each other.

“Come this way,” the attendant said.

Once inside the main hallway, Leiyu stared wide-eyed at his surroundings. In his homeland, the Eastern Region, he had only seen palaces from afar and had never dreamed that he would ever set foot in one, much less in a foreign land. The walls were covered with gold, precious stones, and colorful tiles. The domed ceilings were decorated with ornate geometric patterns. Slanted columns of light shone through the high windows and formed patterned shadows on the glistening marble floors.

The throne room was even more extravagant. Silk sashes flecked with gold wrapped around marble columns. Flower garlands lined the gilded walls, which had even more gemstones and iridescent tiles.

Leiyu and the merchants were ushered to the center of the chamber. Only the shuffling of feet could be heard.

“His Majesty King Xenon enters!” an attendant bellowed.

The merchants dropped to a kneeling position and Leiyu followed suit.

He lowered his head but moved his eyes upward to catch a glimpse of the entering monarch.

King Xenon entered the throne room flanked by two others. He wore a flowing imperial purple cape, a vibrant royal blue embroidered chapan that stretched to his boots, and a vermilion sash around his waist. He was in his early forties, but his face still retained a youthfulness tempered by the faint lines around his eyes. His brown hair was tied up in a bun held together by a gold ring with an embedded sapphire. Across his forehead was a gold band with a larger sapphire.

“Welcome, weary travelers!” he said. “Your journey was long and arduous. Please make yourselves at home and join us later for our banquet!”

“Many thanks, Your Majesty!” the merchants and Leiyu replied.

With his head still downward, Leiyu turned his eyes towards the two people flanking the king. To the left of the king was a man who appeared to be in his late thirties. He had long dark brown hair tied in the back and covered at the top with an ornate square doppi. He also wore an embroidered chapan, although his was not as ornate as the king’s.

The one to the right of the king caught Leiyu’s attention. This person dressed similarly to the king, albeit in lighter hues, and had long silky auburn hair piled up into a half bun held together by a flame-shaped golden ornament. The hair ornament, forehead jewelry, earrings, and necklace were all adorned with rubies. On the face were two peach blossom eyes with amber irises, a delicate nose, and softly curved lips.

Who is this? Leiyu thought. The queen? No, she looks closer to my age. The princess perhaps?

He was intrigued, to say the least.


If the palace interiors did not already impress Leiyu, the banquet certainly did.

There were plates of palov piled high with rice, meat, carrots, and onions, steaming bowls of laghman filled with hand-pulled noodles and spices, stacks of flatbread, and platters with kebabs, dumplings, and fresh fruit.

Leiyu opted for the samsa since it was easy to hold. He bit into the flaky crust and savored the flavorful mutton filling. Before taking another bite, he spotted a lone figure with auburn tresses sitting at a corner table, sipping from a golden goblet, lost in thought.

The princess? he thought.

The lone figure glanced in his direction. He averted his eyes and turned his attention back to the half-eaten samsa.


The evening air was cool as Leiyu strolled through the palace gardens. Fragrant flower petals were strewn about and streams of water meandered throughout the grounds. He started walking onto a gently arched bridge.

Coming from the other side of the bridge was a familiar figure with flowing auburn hair and lilac-colored robes, flanked by two palace guards.

He knelt. “My lady...”

The auburn-tressed figure gasped and started to laugh softly.

Leiyu looked up. Did he say something wrong?

With laughter like gentle music, the figure grinned.

“I am…Prince Thallios!”


King Xenon was walking down the corridor when the man with the square doppi caught up with him.

“Your Majesty, did you not attend the banquet?”

“I do not care much for these things anymore. It is for the others. The palace is only open to the public during this time of the year.”

“I saw His Highness the Crown Prince there, although I am not sure how long he stayed. Actually, I am surprised he joined us earlier. It has been a while since you two spoke.”

The king sighed. “I encountered him in the courtyard and told him he should come to greet our visitors.”

“That was surprising as well, Your Majesty. We do not normally give merchants such formal greetings in the throne room.”

“The attendants said they were from the Eastern Region.”

“Oh…I see…is that why you wanted His Highness to join?”


Prince Thallios? Leiyu’s face turned red and he dropped to the ground in a deep kowtow, prostrating with his head against the cold surface of the bridge.

“Please forgive me, Your Highness!”

Prince Thallios looked at him. “Do not worry, it is a common mistake.”

Leiyu lifted his head slowly.

“You may stand.”

Leiyu slowly got up.

“What is your name?”

“Your Highness, this humble one is named Leiyu.”

“Lei…yu…” the prince repeated his name slowly, intrigued by the unfamiliar sounds and the changing tones of each syllable. “Interesting…Well Leiyu, I was on my way to the rooftop garden. Would you like to join me?”

Leiyu was taken aback. After embarrassing himself in front of the prince and the guards, he had not expected this. Not wanting to offend the prince any further, he responded, “Sure…if that is what Your Highness wishes…”

The prince smiled. “The view from there is spectacular.”


They walked through countless corridors before they finally reached the rooftop garden. After going through the entrance, Prince Thallios said, “Guards, you may be dismissed.”

“Your Highness?” said one of the guards.

“I’ll be fine. You can stand outside the door and I will call if I need you.”

The two guards looked at each other. They slowly exited and closed the door.

The rooftop garden was filled with rows of flowers and trees. The scent of lavender permeated the air. Prince Thallios walked over to the parapet. “This is the highest point in the palace. You can see the whole city from here.”

Leiyu walked over and gazed outwards. Lights twinkled across the expanse of the city, as if they were the reflections of the stars. He could see the faint outlines of the densely packed dwellings and patches of brightness in the streets, which he assumed were from the bazaar. In the distance were the silhouettes of the city walls.

“Wow, it’s…” Leiyu turned to his left and looked at the prince’s smiling face. “Beautiful…”


Far from the opulent palace and the festive bazaars of the capital, dark columns of smoke billowed skyward, illuminated by the orange glow of raging fires. A horde of cloaked figures with tasseled helmets and masks that only revealed their eyes surged through the streets of Umaraq, throwing torches in all directions. Buildings crackled and burned amidst a cacophony of clanging swords and whinnying horses as the local soldiers tried to defend their city. Arrows tore through the air, puncturing shields and piercing armor.

A lone horseman broke away from the chaos. His steed galloped into the night, heading northward toward Ishkhandar.


While they were admiring the night view, Leiyu stole a glance at Prince Thallios’ right hand, which was inches away from his own left hand on the cool stone parapet. The prince’s hand was petite and around his index finger was a silver ring that was attached to a bracelet by a thin chain.

“The Summer Festival is coming up in a couple of days, “ said the prince as his face was illuminated by the moonlight. “The city will look even more beautiful then.”

“I see,” Leiyu replied.

Prince Thallios started walking toward the center of the garden, where there was a tabletop fire pit surrounded on either side by divans. He sat down on one of the divans and leaned his right arm against the armrest. Leiyu took this as a cue to follow suit, and he settled into the divan opposite of the prince’s. The fire crackled in the pit as they glanced at each other.

“So,” the prince said as he rested the fingers of his left hand on his right arm, just above his bracelet. “What’s your story?”


“Where you’re from…” the prince said as he leaned his head against his hands. “Your travels…”

"Oh! Well…" Leiyu had never really told anyone his life story. However, the prince was showing genuine curiosity, so he began to tell his tale. “I am originally from the Eastern Region. I left a few years ago though, and journeyed to the Northern Region, where I lived for about a year with the nomads.”

Leiyu paused to gauge the prince’s reaction. He seemed intrigued.

“But I wanted to keep going westward, so I took off again. During my journey, I encountered a trade caravan that was being attacked by a group of bandits…”

Author's Note

Leiyu's name is Chinese, which is a tonal language. Hence, Prince Thallios was intrigued by the tones when learning his name.