Empire

(play excerpt)

empire-big-2

 First Movement

(play excerpt)

My eyes open, and I see an adjacent wall slowly morph into a translucent portal. Transfixed, I pull the covers back and leave the safety of my bed to examine the murky vision before me. Stepping through the gateway, I find myself alone on a steep, rocky hillside.

I climb down the escarpment toward a deep valley where I find endless legions of marching skeletons clad in a motley assortment of armor. The soldiers are being bullied into position as they file by in lockstep precision. One skeleton breaks rank and makes it to the edge of the marching horde before being surrounded by scores of others. They converge on him and attack.

A heroic scene plays out as the lone skeleton battles an overwhelming number of opponents. In the dust and confusion, I lose sight of the action, but the intense clash of swords rings in my ears. Slowly, the seething tide of skeletons resumes its march. In the clearing dust, the battalion moves forward around the subdued skeleton. He struggles to stand, and, missing some bones, finally manages to push on with the rest. I lose sight of him as the valley of skeletons dissolves into the distance.

Second Movement

(play excerpt)

Finding no way to return to my bedroom, I cautiously make my way down to the valley floor. The trampled earth and lingering dust is the only evidence of the passing army. Lost in a featureless landscape, I follow the imprints left by the captured souls. The parched, cracked earth beneath my feet ends at the edge of a deep, cloud filled gorge. Barren land gives way to a dense tangle of ferns, shrubs, and trees as I scramble down a ravine into a chilling mist rising from the gorge basin.

Finally reaching level ground, I continue in the army’s path through the rolling fog as a dark shape looms in the distance. The ominous shadow gradually reveals itself as the entrance to a massive fortress; the sight of it grips me with a sickening fear. While inching closer, I turn to see the silhouettes of skeletons coming up behind me moving toward the entrance. Unless I want to be discovered, I must enter.

Third Movement

(play excerpt)

Crouched out of view just inside the stronghold’s vast gate, I watch uneasily as thousands of armed skeletons pass. After the last formation marches by, I turn back toward the entrance and run. Out of nowhere, a blazing wall of flames leaps up, sealing off my escape. I dive to the ground just as a furnace blast of burning gases rolls over me.

I search for a new place to hide when a small creature confronts me, mirroring my every movement and blocking my path. I finally stop, exhausted, realizing that it’s much faster than I am. The creature addresses me by name, and then begins to explain that my future is uncertain. As I listen, its appearance slowly transforms into the image of a man. When I ask who he is, he replies, “I am the man you will become.”

The creature changes again, this time into a beautiful woman. She beckons me toward a shimmering pool; its swirling surface reveals scenes from my future – images both good and bad. While immersed in the images, I am spotted by a skeleton sentry who then rushes in my direction. I run away toward an opening in the hillside then downward through narrow, twisting underground tunnels while more and more skeletons join the pursuit. Suddenly, I realize that I’ve been corralled into a huge subterranean cavern surrounded by thousands of chanting skeletons brandishing weapons in the air. One skeleton slowly approaches. From behind his back he produces a crystal orb. Looking deeply into it, I see myself asleep in my bedroom.

Fourth Movement

(play excerpt)

In unison, the skeletons fall silent; all heads turn reverently toward an approaching ghoul. As he nears the center of the cavern, the skeletons bow down. He looks at me, smiles, and says, “Join me,” then begins to laugh. The more I back away, the harder he roars, until the cave echoes with his laughter. I run in every direction but can’t find a way out. The ghoul gives a signal; scores of skeletons leave the tiered perimeter and begin a synchronized dance both mesmerizing and frighteningly beautiful. Some of the dancers are engulfed in crimson flames.

I notice a tattered dancer – the skeleton who tried to escape back in the rocky valley. Seeing him, I know any contract made with the ghoul would result in a fate similar to his. Pointing his bony finger in my direction, the ghoul demands I follow him, but I continue to refuse. We are surrounded by the dancers, and one has the crystal orb. Impulsively, I run at him, pushing him to the ground. Losing his balance, he drops the sphere. Seizing it myself, I hear the ghoul’s deafening scream, “Noooooooo!”, but the sound gradually fades, and nothing is left but silence, and a boy asleep in his bed.