/* PCD change http to https for CSRF JUL 2017 */ The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Nineteen | KidPub Press //
The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Nineteen

The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Nineteen

Posted August 5th, 2017 by maxi

by Max
in Erissa, Erilea, Westeros, The New York Institute, Roshar, Scadrial, New Chicago, Eye of the World, Metallica and Questeria

A/N: Ooooh chapter from the Kingdom itself!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

The Darklands Kingdom

 

The throne room of the Darklands Kingdom was sprawling with ivies, shadows and dripping with the obscurity of gloom. The sight pounded a vivid remembrance of the battlefields of old age into Lightseer Zarael’s mind. Long the throne room was, but the crowds were few. Only a handful of servants traipsed around the room, obeying orders given by those of higher position. Meanwhile, upon the Ivy Throne—forged from the darkest of nightmares and the blackest of steel—sat Althulor Wraithheart, King of the Wraiths.Azaehbar.

            As far as Zarael had heard, the Shadow King had taken on a new form. His true form. Instead of the rumoured bald head, purple eyes and the like, he was something completely different. Zarael had heard of the Wraiths, the Droids, but to see one in person blew any expectations away and into a foreign land of darkness.

            Althulor’s pale skin was tightly pressed against his figure, resulting in pallid, shallow cheekbones. His eyes swirled like coronas of fiery death, gold and black, shining and glimmering. Although legend claimed they were bony, Althulor’s body claimed no such thing: his strength surpassed that of many, prominent in his jawline and his shoulders as well as the protruding muscles in his torso. The Shadow King wore tightly-knit black warlord’s uniform, armour and sword’s sheath strapped beneath. Atop his head lay a crown of jutting stag horns dyed ebony black and obsidian.

            The Ivy Throne itself sat on a dais-like platform rising some feet from the ground. Beside him, on his right, stood two companions. One was a woman with flowing black hair, the other was a man with broad shoulders and wavy blonde hair. They both donned the imperial armour of the Darklands Kingdom, identical to their lord’s but for a slightly lighter shade. On Althulor’s left was a man with bulging muscles, short-cropped black hair, thin lips. Strangely, he donned ordinary garments.

            Zarael, former Assassin of White, stood before the mighty lord of the dark and knelt, a quivering hand on his knee, the other by his side.

            Dark power throbbed from every pouring wave of Essence within Althulor’s Base. Zarael could practically feel the swelling abilities encompass the majority, if not all, of the kingdom. Of the Darklands.

            It had taken long to enter the empire. Although Zarael had expected something more melodramatic than what had actually occurred, all he’d needed was to state his reason for entering and then stride through to the throne room for an official induction. The doors were most likely open because of the shrinking probability of anyone wanting to enter Althulor’s empire. This added to the fact that there were Voidwrought and possessed Infusers swarming the battlegrounds and the interior of the kingdom.

            “You are now in the presence of the mighty lord,” the woman to his right spoke, stepping forward. “Confirm your identity, stranger. Confirm your names and sins to the lord.”

            “My name was Lightseer, Assassin of White, birthed from the Lightlands, trained in the Lightlands. I seek a new reputation to eradicate the old. I am now Zarael, the name my ancestors gifted me, and I come looking for steadiness and a calling amongst your tribe.” He stood erect, back straight with newfound determination. Light faded from his red eyes, the shimmer from his cropped brown-black hair.

            “I am the Challenger,” the woman said. “The man next to me is the Commandant. We serve the bountiful ruler of the Darklands and, soon, Questeria. Are you certain you wish to continue with the induction, Lightseer Zarael of Raede Spez?”

            Raede Spez, he thought. They must know of the Assassins. If they hadn’t, though, they would not have been anointed their positions on the lord’s hierarchy. His suspicions still ran wild nonetheless as he faced the four people atop the dais, his inferiority dimming to a shuddering light.

            “I am certain.”

            “And so we begin,” Althulor said, his mouth all stern and rigid. His head craned forward, the shadows playing with the blackness of the stag horns. “The wrath of armies from the Light-bringers continues to grow strong. Enemies and foes become friends anew in preparation for a war that will ravage the earth. The gods and their descendants have descended upon the Ten Realms, demanding justice and uniformity for the wrongs we have caused. Pray tell, Zarael, what have you got to offer for my growing empire? Why have you come here?”

            Silence followed Althulor’s words like a deadly, swift companion. The former Assassin stood there, eyes widening before reducing to a glancing look at the dark king. Zarael waited some time before standing to his feet, eyes wavering in view of the lord. He cleared his throat, sound echoing and vibrating from deep within his shaking bones.

            “My lord, I come bearing the gifts of Eminence, Summoning and Pandemonium. These have all influenced my being into a Decay-user, a Decaywrought Assassin of White. I fear my powers will become wild without proper training from higher ranked officers and Conjurers. Alas, I do know my abilities will be important, vital in the Battle of the End.”

            Gasps and whispers went around the room like a firestorm, but Zarael paid little heed to those wandering and working under the steel hand of the king. In a little amount of time, he himself might be working with scrutiny and determination etched into his face like a hammer onto a sword.

            Althulor observed Zarael for some time before crossing his legs atop the throne. “There is a certain… inexplicableness about you. I am aware of the powers of the Darkness and have my scribes researching heavily into the history of such, as well as the creatures that have been birthed from the Almighty Shadow himself. I will say, little of his has influenced my subjects and intentions but…” The king licked his lips. “I haven’t a clue what to believe when developing an opinion on the topic, however. All of it is prehistoric material.”

            Zarael feared the question would be received with overwhelming pain, but he asked it nevertheless: “Do you wield magic of the Darkness, mighty lord?”

            Indeed, Althulor shifted in his seat at the question. Although no superiority was detected from Zarael’s eyes but for the overall prominence in every motion the Wraith made, no further darkness ebbed from his presence.

            “I dwell in the absence of life and of death,” said Althulor. There was an unforgivable familiarity in his voice, the voice of Fravado Promprii Farighan.

            Neither magic? Zarael considered the possibilities. Infusion and Decay. Witchcraft and sorcery. What else is there left to dabble in the arts of? What else but the inexplicable darkness that continues to spread its wings?

            “My lord,” he said, diverting the conversation into a change of topic. “I wish to become your personal assassin or something of the like. There are many enemies coming for you. You know of the infamous Allegiance, but I am doubtless there is more on the horizon. I have nothing to suggest but for increasing the likelihood in your armies adding to your ranks. Weapons, magic-wielders, creatures of the Darkness.”

            The Commandant, expression uncertain and concerned, turned to Althulor in immediate desperation for the consequences of the forthcoming war. “Wraithheart, we are treading in troubled waters. If the tension builds between you two, there will be undeniable conflict in—”

            In a swift move, Althulor stood to his feet to face the man who spoke. He lifted a hand and abrupt pain shot through and into the Commandant. A scream tore from the man’s throat as he was sent to his knees, hacking and wheezing out whatever breath he had left inside him. Althulor only stood there, horns rising into the air, shadows wending through the gaps.

            “Speak of it once more, Commandant, and Maortyem might see a new visitor in its vicinity. There is undoubtedly room left for the land of the dead.”

            Althulor returned to the throne and the Commandant to his position, occasionally letting out a mumble or a curse and the frequent hacking coughs that released from his throat. With a sure smirk, the Dark King continued. However, there was a strain in his voice as he spoke his next words. A strain that Zarael couldn’t put his finger on. Not the emotion and certainly not what it embedded.

            Althulor’s gaze was pinned back to his visitor. “I assume your profession’s skills were acquired through well-met training?”

            “Yes, my lord. Undeniably long hours of hard-working days.”

            “So far, my personal garrison mainly consists of endless squads of Voidwrought soldiers. Faldrex, a city close by, will be occupying our boundaries shortly. Do you have any reason to be against these terms, assassin?”

            Uncertainty wavered in the king’s eyes. No, not uncertainty but understanding.

            Zarael slowly shook his head. “No, my lord. I comprehend your requirements. What is within the job that I might consider?”

            The question was met with a harsh glare, Althulor’s pupils diluting before swaying like an ocean of darkness. He leaned forward, a conspiratorial look on his face, as he replied, “Assassinations go hand in hand with battle. Assassinations will start battles, yes, but they also progress greater motions of violence. I don’t see your skills as of yet, Assassin, but I am sure there will be much for me to assess in the near future.”

            Does the man think me incapable of killing a few brutes?

            Zarael stepped from side to side, unaware of his movements, before he was abruptly stopped.

            A woman with short-cropped, dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes stepped forward from below the left of the dais. An eyebrow rose in the assassin’s direction.

            Assassin. The name didn’t appear to ring any bells now. It dragged him back to a lifetime of memories. Running away from bell-tolling cities. Chasing down targets, slaughtering them for whatever sum Raede Spez had in their greedy little pockets.

            No. Perhaps he had been the greedy one. A way to steal and scavenge had once seemed better than to salvage and treasure. But things had changed over the last few months. He expected them to change even further, what with how this meeting was going.

            “Vaan,” the king said, gesturing to the armoured woman with a flourish in the motion. “You may speak.”

            Vaan bowed, then directed her gaze to Zarael. “Lightseer Zarael, I hope you consider the offer Wraithheart presents you instead of heading in blind. There are many subjects to analyse. Bloodshed is a world-known motive now, and there will be consequences for the damned. Should you step over the line, there will be consequences. Should you disobey an order… Well, I think you know it by now.”

            The Challenger added, “Boundaries, Vaan. Don’t let the assassin know too much before he does his dirty work.”

            “I will work for the Ivy Throne or for the Darklands Kingdom?” Zarael commented, the question mark in his voice annotating precisely what he meant.

            Althulor said, “A dark storm is brewing. Whatever side you take within my kingdom is your own business, assassin. Not my own, not my people’s and certainly not my kingdom’s. I suggest you do decide how to stand firm in this war, though.”

            Vaan nodded in silent agreement.

            The squadrons of soldiers and gatherings of servants in the throne room resumed their work as the conversation went on. However, Zarael suspected there were more than a couple necks craning over to investigate the discussion. He was surprised Althulor didn’t order them to ignore the topic and delay the meeting altogether. And yet, they worked under the dutiful hand of their master.

            Well, it wasn’t what Zarael expected. No denying that.

            “My wage?”

            “We will speak of this in further negotiations. Your wage, your missions, your skills and your training. There is not much time; I am sure you are aware of this. But we will take care of it.”

            Zarael nodded, yet growing increasingly overwhelmed by the magnanimousness the Challenger had undoubtedly promised.

            “Paltuwae,” Althulor announced, nodding to a nearby mistress. “Take our visitor up to one of the fine chambers. A level beneath my own would do.”

            Another woman—her curly, ash-speckled dark hair messy in tufts of strands—curtsied. Emerging from a shadowy portion near the dais of the Ivy Throne, Paltuwae found Zarael and placed a callused hand on the square of his back. She drove them both directly out of the hallway.

            The entire journey, Zarael could’ve sworn both Althulor and Vaan watched him with beady eyes.

 

 Hamos Firesworn closed the door behind him to the main library as Rissa Kalak followed in front of him, both of their Cohort’s horns swinging by their sides. The library of the Darklands Kingdom was an expansive room, near to the point of bulging from the towering shelves of books upon books upon books. They stood on a small alcove—ringed with a stone railway—that overlooked the towers and stacks of volumes before them. Below were also reading desks and study desks for the staff of the kingdom.

            Hamos doubted they’d been used in some time since Althulor took His seat on the throne. Anyone daring to contradict or oppose the king’s legacy via text would be seen to—and not without malevolence.

            He observed Rissa as she came before the stone railway, gloved hands upon the balustrade. Her orange-red hair shimmered and gleamed despite the gloom hanging over the majority of the castle. Within, he wondered what was on her mind. What she was thinking and how she thought of him. How they had gotten here of all places.

            Perhaps it was just another twist of Fate itself.

            He strode next to her, his bare, war-calloused hands weighing the sturdiness of the stone beneath his palms. His black hair wavered in the gentle breeze wafting in from the shattered glass windows beyond. His hazel eyes assessed the room before him in earnest, in wonder.

            During the few weeks they’d been in the Darklands Kingdom, after their departure from the Voidlands, they had done a considerate amount of studying on the Braesim Staff and the magic that came with it. Supposedly, Althulor used the fabric of the universe—time and reality itself—to draw upon its energy and to eventually succeed in teleportation… But, inwardly, Hamos thought there was something finite about it.

            Its properties simply seemed mortal and it was for that reason there was a strain in the Cohort relationship between him and Rissa. Their swagger had lost its purpose. Their undying trust had wavered. Even their singular movements had weakened. He wasn’t sure what this argument would bring, but he hoped civil war was out of the case.

            He hoped.

            It had only been as of recent times that she’d asked him to speak alone. Althulor had allowed it; needing permission to speak alone seemed slightly absurd, but that was their God-King. That was His way.

            He heard a shiver in her sigh as she leaned forward, forearms balanced on the railing. “We need to talk.”

            He nodded. “I gathered that… Listen, if it’s about Braesim, there’s nothing else I’ve found. I can do more researching if you want, but it’s not going to change—”

            “No,” she interjected, shaking her head. Gods, she didn’t even look at him. Was he really that foolish? He didn’t care to think of his mistakes. He wanted to know how he could patch them up. “I don’t want to talk about that. There’s something brewing, Hamos. Some distinct connection between me and some force I can’t see. I don’t know what it is, but I’m worried it’s shattering our trust. Our respect for one another.”

            Oh, he thought. So he was foolish. Perhaps instead of making assumptions, I can actually listen for once. Don’t I ever listen? Not to anyone who bloody well says anything to me? He inwardly sighed in resignation. He stared at his hands. They shivered despite the oncoming cold; he forced them into fists before his Cohort could notice the trepidation leaking through him.

            “I thought it was— No, I’m going to sound imprudent.”

            “Speak,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “Don’t let what’s on your mind cloud your thoughts.”

            He nodded in spite of himself. She was right; there was only so much time for the inevitability of war and he didn’t want to waste it on hiding secrets from those he trusted. Trusted and loved. “I thought our… trust was hurt because of the argument. Because of our attempts to sway each other to either side. I thought so much, but it had all been just me thinking wrong of myself. Of us.” He shook his head in disbelief, forlornness tearing through his chest.

            “I wouldn’t let something so small come between us, Hamos,” she replied, concern streaking her expression. She turned to him, a small, impish smile coming across her rose-shaped mouth. “If anything, the cost of war is trust and love. Do you really think I would give it all up? No, I don’t think so.”

            He smiled back, but there was a certain oddness about the conversation. Something about the fluidity, about the flow of it appeared too easy for his mind. He kept an eye trained on the room—and another trained on his Cohort. Rissa looked at him without any unease, however, and only then did envy creep into his bones like a virus.

            “The God-King… What would He think of us? To know that two Cohorts are in love is forbidden.”

            Confusion was etched onto her face as she stepped back from Hamos’s gentle grasp, assessing her partner. Her aqua blue eyes gleamed like a sea set by the summery gold of the sun. She was all curves and soft angles, her body so fluid like the waves of the ocean. However, harsh calculation sparked in her eyes, that of a flame, that of an inferno.

            He watched her as she said, “There’s no such thing as any forbidden romance. That only comes from the legends.”

            He rose an eyebrow. “In my religion, the Firesworn believe two Cohorts in love is an act of hatred and betrayal of the religion itself. It’s also deemed as an act of complete incest. I’m not sure how, seeing as we are not blood-related. But it’s an act of betrayal nonetheless. Betrayal is worse than death—worse than torture.”

            Rissa let out a huff, intentionally blowing away a cluster of hair from her face. It curled around the back of her ear, like a phantom wind had guided it there. “I’m not sure how we can stand against religion, but it’s an awfully terrible way to start a war. Wouldn’t it be, Hamos? I’ve known you for most my time in the Voidlands. All we know about the land has told us to have a trustworthy companion nearby. Death is almost always imminent in such a land.”

            He nodded back, shadow and light battling at the corridors of the library. There was only one librarian that trailed her way, wending in and out of bookshelves like they belonged to her. Her name was Fervora. The grey-haired woman didn’t pay them much heed as they spoke conversationally, fortunately. To reveal any secrets… That would deem them traitors to the throne, without a doubt.

            But which side am I on? Althulor has provided me with money and a purpose, a legacy to fulfil. But then there is so much more waiting for me. And just beyond my reach, too! Hamos thought to himself, regarding Rissa with a keen eye.

            “Love starts skirmishes,” he said. “They escalate into battle. Into wars. I’m sorry, Rissa, but I don’t know what to do about it. There’s no denying my love for you, but there’s no denying the love I yield to my religion, also.”

            She shook her head. “We’ll focus on what’s near us—instead of what is coming. The force, Hamos. This undeniably dark force inside my head is growing stronger. Headaches start to come like second pulses, like my own heartbeat. I worry it will invade all of me soon enough. My soul.”

            He gulped, a bout of sadness and desperation straining his voice. “Have you confronted Althulor about it?”

            “No. I’m worried he will outright declare it as Decay or some form of dark magic. If he does, I’ll be executed. And that won’t look good for the Sakalakians. Then again, nothing looks good for the Sakalakians with one of their own on the throne.”

            Astonishment ran through him, straight like an arrow. “He wasn’t a Sakalakian. He took the form of a boy, yes, but he wasn’t a pure-blooded one.”

            She shrugged. “Look, I don’t know. I’m not so sure on what he actually is, myself. I know that he is a druid, yes, but what are the rules and laws of his race? What does his species depend on? What do they live for? If it’s anything close to Braesim or the powers of said magic, I think we’re up against something the world is not ready for.”

            He cracked his knuckles together.

            Braesim had been on his mind, indeed. After much delving into the topic and reading endless reports on it written by historical figures, they’d gathered not that much information at all. Nevertheless, reading about the true omnipotence of the power itself subdued any strength that Hamos had been keeping control of. Without that strength, he wasn’t able to find it within himself that he could survive.

            The books had mainly consisted of what the Braesim Staff looked like, how to wield it, the history of the Ancestrals—those who had created the magic it depended on and drew from itself—and the interactions between the wielder and the Staff. From what they’d been reading, Hamos and Rissa had concluded there was only one Staff.

            But they could only be so certain as to continue their studies into the topic. A yearning for knowledge dived deeper than just his emotional wanting. This was a spiritual need that came from deep within. A somewhat scholarly part of him that had only resided deep enough to never make a mention in his life again.

            He stared out at the books before them. The only reminder that acted as an anchor between reality and the realisation of the true capacity of Braesim.

            Infusion—the mother to Thanium, Sterium, Braesim… and so many others left unidentified. Hopefully the Ancestrals had left some hint on the other magic systems. If only to clear way of the shadows continuing to cast a veil in front of the truth.

            “The books. They aren’t helping us anymore, Rissa,” Hamos said. “We need to find some other way to find out what that Staff does and how to find out his magic.”

            “Why are we doing this?” she asked, holding Hamos’s hands in her own. The touch was so gentle—so caring. “Why are we even finding out what he can do, when we know he is too much for us to truly understand? He has lived through centuries—possibly millennia—and we are still figuring out who he is. What he is.”

            “Hope. It’s the only thing that drives me nowadays.” He snorted, like it was a joke. However, deep within, the jest was merely a shadow of the past. The past that he continued to push back—a weight against what the future held.

            “Hope is dead,” she replied, “but who else is going to do the gods’ work? They’ve all abandoned us to become sadistic killers, to feed upon the blood of those who have wronged them. But just because of betrayal, just because of religions ceasing, do you think the world will stop rebelling?”

            “Yes.”

            She smiled at him. “That’s where you’re wrong. When all hope is dead, that’s when hope comes back. When the heroic legend has been killed, that’s when the people revolt. When they stand up and fight back. And that’s exactly how we’re going to fight back against the Darklands Kingdom. What has Althulor ever done for us?”

            “Coinage. Money.”

            Rissa sighed, pulling on a tendril of her silky hair. “Yes, but that’s not what we want, now, is it? There’s so much more than money. Building a life, a family, a future. And while you may need money to do that, I don’t think bribery will birth an entirely new aspect of your reputation. Althulor has fought my people. He’s made a slave out of my own kin. He has butchered many Firesworn, Hamos, and I don’t doubt he will do it again. I know the way to finding out about his powers.”

            “There’s no way knowing what he’s capable of. There’s no way we can show people what he can do, Rissa Kalak. I’m sorry to doubt any plans you have, but it’s just not going to work.”

            The library was quiet for a moment—even more so with three people occupying the monstrous place. Fervora shuffled along absentmindedly, paying attention to her own duties.

            “Right, we can’t. But he can. This is my plan, thorough and thorough. If we can spread false rumours about the powers of the Braesim Staff—elaborating more on just the teleportation but other not wild but possible abilities—then it will work. Seeing as it takes around two months or so for Althulor to gain his full potential back, we have about a month to convince people that he’s dangerous. That it’s more than just meaningless teleportation. Additionally, he won’t ever have a need for using the Braesim Staff. The only time the weapon will come into play is if Althulor meets an enemy of his standards. Someone worth the fight. Since that won’t happen anytime soon, what with so many on his side and Infusers continuing to build onto his army, we have only one job to do and he has the other. He will absentmindedly do this job: not use the Staff. We will do the other: build people on our side to fight this war. How do we do that?”

            Hamos was somewhat convinced. He never really had been on a side, after all. Even though Cohorts were supposed to be pronounced as equals, it was Rissa who did all the evaluating and assessing of the things around them. It was Hamos who acted out of pure brutality and out of the training the fellow Firesworn had gifted him with.

            “We convince them that he is dangerous. We convince them the God-King is completely murderous. And, once he realises the rumours are spreading, he will unleash his rage upon the people and show us his powers.” And that was all they would need to win. To come out on top, victorious. Undefeatable.

            In response, Rissa grinned, her smile a slash of white in the gloom.

            “I just have one complaint about all this.”

            She rose an eyebrow in question. “Yes?”

            “Isn’t Althulor releasing his fury going to kill most of the people, seeing as they are all mortals… and Althulor, you know, isn’t?”

            Rissa shook her head. “The people who join our side will be from his army. They will keep their secrets, that they know of his dangerousness, right up until we confront him. The people who join us will all be Infusers. Infusers have extremely powerful abilities. We will catch him right at his weakest—when he’s unsuspecting and when our God-King releases the rage. Right after that bout of madness, we attack and we build allies with it. And, plus, all things age and die. Only that who created the universe cannot die, for He is and was.”

            Silence reigned—right before realisation slammed into Hamos’s gut like a blow to the stomach. “We have an advantage.”

            “It’s going to cost us a few men once that power of his is released, but… We have a chance. We have a chance to win. To live in peace once more.”

            Hamos smiled, if only to keep the pain and sorrow buried away. For, with hope, there was always something that crumpled.

            After all, all things aged and died.

 

“My lord,” Vaan announced to Althulor, who sat upon the Ivy Throne. “A visitor comes from near the death-camps of the Kingdom. He is without magic, but he wields a powerful strength to him. Shall I bring him in?”

            Althulor rose an eyebrow. Oh, yes, he had been expecting someone to come along for a while now. Everyone seemed to want a shard of the Druid-King’s divine abilities. Of course, the extent to which he could perform was limited to others. But, then again, there was a peculiarity within the desperation of humans that Althulor found compatible to his own desires and needs. Why, the mere thought of having a human companion—without Infusion, without the glory of light suffusing the bones—made him chuckle… And yet, it still brought wonder into Althulor’s heart.

            The king, intrigued, gestured to the double doors fifty feet adjacent to him. “Yes, yes, bring him forth.”

            The lad was accompanied by two guards in armour and he… He reminded Althulor very much of himself. The man was in his mid-twenties, had no hair to account for and his eyes were the most divine sapphire the king had ever seen. His strength was not to be spoken lightly of, however. The man had huge, bulging muscles that seemed to be the height of another’s handspan. There was a certain wickedness about him that gleamed in the green of his eyes… Something that Althulor could not recognise, even with the strain on his powers. On his otherworldly abilities.

            Just before the man had knelt before the king, he asked of the man, “State your name and why you come here, visitor.” He was thankful for the finality in the tone of his voice. Impressions appeared to roll off the tongue when used rightly; thankfully, he proceeded without the caution that was needed for a God-King.

            “I am Halb Monaer of Adadra,” Halb said, sporting a crooked grin. “I come from my camps to present to you my… methods, if you would say. I would require killing instruments, as I am sure you have unlimited supply of, but other than that, you have a torturer on your hands!”

            Althulor narrowed his eyebrows, bit down on his bottom lip. He couldn’t help but feel as if the man was using him for one way or another. Somehow, that perspective on the visit rose up into Althulor’s mind and repeated like endless clockwork. Nevertheless, the idea flitted out from his mind for later. There would be no such time for menial considerations. What he needed was the truth and nothing but.

            “You have no one to persuade me that you truly do possess the skills and mindset that you speak so highly of, Halb Monaer of Adadra? It would be a much easier way to convince me that you are right for my kingdom. That you have permission to be a part of my war, that is,” Althulor said.

            Halb chuckled. “Why, I would, my lord. There is no doubt in mind that I have what it takes to be a part of your kingdom, yes, but I do not think it would be wise to bring over a thousand men and counting into your empire. My captain, Numan, would be welcome to show you what he has been working on, though. That is, if you are so willing to work with my men. If the Darklands cannot handle the brutality of such torturous men, then I am not too sure what you are capable of.”

            Althulor shook his head slowly. “An army will do me well, boy, but there is more in my mind than just strength and power. In fact, I do not think either won me my throne.”

            “What did win you your throne, then?”

            The God-King smiled in spite of himself. “I think it imprudent to ask someone that. Especially one who lords over you. There is a certain dangerousness floating about the world, Halb. I pray you don’t get caught in the middle.”

            “I am hoping,” Halb snapped back, “that Numan’s men can help you with that. Queen Merissa might be a grand companion—and ally, at that—but I can help you with more than what she gives you. A torturer in the middle of an army? Why, it might even give your men the hope they need to fully claim their powers for their own. To stand up against their adversaries. If you don’t try, you will never know if it is possible.”

            “I want to know what is true,” he commented, speaking his previous thoughts aloud. Amidst the chaos of the conversation they continued in, Althulor shot a look at Vaan beside him. The woman stood with a firmness that the king had only now come to appreciate. A catlike, smooth smile slashed across Althulor’s mouth as he said, “But what I believe to be the truth is that I don’t want your methods of killing and slaying. If I wanted to achieve my goal of complete annihilation of the terrar, I wouldn’t do so individually. One by one. I want it to be a full-out, no-limits battle where we come out on top. Is that what you want?”

            Halb bowed, almost in mere mockery. “Of course, my lord. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

            What Althulor said next wiped all the wittiness and fluidity from Halb’s expressions. Once he spoke it aloud, the man stood in shock of the impact of the words it brought him.

            “Good. Leave my kingdom and return with your captain’s army in the battlegrounds at once. You have until the next rising of the moon. Once the men are in the grounds, come back here with your captain so we can make a few things clear. Now leave.”

            At that, Halb left the throne room, ivies and shadows trailing his wake.


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