Another in my position may pray to the Gods of Mercy or Compassion, asking for salvation. I, though, pray to the Gods of Fire and Destruction, asking that they unleash their wrath upon these wretched people, bringing this city to its knees. The metallic sound of chains scraping on stone will forever torment me. Each step I take a grisly reminder of the hindrance cuffed around my ankles. Gods am I thirsty. Heat waves ripple off of the scorching cobblestone streets, distorting the air around them. I try to run my tongue over my cracked lips, but the only moisture between them is the blood seeping from the crevices.
Far past the point of exhaustion, my foot drags, causing me to stumble. In that moment of descent, the sharp crack of a whip pierces the air, accompanied by a commanding, 'UP,’ that brings me back to my feet. My back bleeds. The cloths that cover me are stained red by the lashes that cover my body. Each step pulls me closer to my fate, yet I must move forward. Do my legs betray me? It is but a fleeting thought as I trudge on, yet still, it haunts me; I carry myself to my own death, though I'm not sure how much longer I can do so.
Disoriented, my gaze falls upon the burnt remains of a cottage as we pass by—the cottage I used to call home. The cottage that my only friend now lies below, reduced to ash under blackened rubble.
No time to mourn, no, no time for thoughts at all. All I can do is press on, one foot in front of the other.
The city around me moves as the city always has. Clangs still ring out from the blacksmiths forge, Vendors still stand by their market stalls and tout their goods, there’s even children running past as they play in the streets. It’s odd. It’s as if these people don’t see me. I am a ghost amidst their routine, my suffering an overlooked detail in the tapestry of their lives.
As we approach the courtyard, I see the city’s pride on full display - red banners cascade from every window, drape over every terrace, and adorn each wall. The crimson fabric flaps in the breeze. Upon it is sewn the silhouette of a Lion with a snake clamped firmly between its jaws, a symbol of their arrogance. A wooden platform protrudes above the sea of people that have gathered in my name. Upon the platform sits a throne, and on that a King.
“Hear ye, Hear ye!" The herald bellows from atop the podium. I continue to stumble forward as the crowd steps aside, forming a path, making way for their entertainment. What sick fools must you be to enjoy watching a man have his head lopped off? My death will be no more than a spectacle, an event for the ignorant. All of them oblivious to the evil who sits in front of them, high upon his iron throne with a belly full of wine and a mind full of drunken rage. The herald shuffles a bit, uneasy once all eyes are upon him.
“The King will now have a word,” he shouts.
The crowd falls silent, so silent that you can hear his shoes knocking against the wooden stage as he retreats. Now, rising ever so graciously from his throne, their fat king staggers forward consumed by an air of false nobility. Center stage, I await his righteous judgment. Beaten, bloody, and broken I survey my audience. Anger, disgust, and even excitement reflect from their eyes… but not a single one seems to have any sort of pity for the dead man before them. The kings voice cuts through the air like hot steel.
“Noble citizens! I stand before you today with something… truly special. As you all know, today marks 13 years since those savages ravaged our castle. I dare not speak of the horrors that were committed that day… though forever will they torment my memory… BUT! Today… today also marks the 4th month that we have been free from the tyranny, and oppression of our previous ruler. Today marks 4 months since that BASTARD, got what he FUCKING deserved!”
The crowd begins to cheer, but the king raises his hand to shush them.
“Now, to celebrate, and to finally exact our revenge, i present to you;”
A guard violently shoves me to the front of the stage.
“THE SON OF MORTIMUS!”
Applause erupted throughout the castle, their cheers echoing off of its stone walls.
Mortimus?.. Is that who I am? The son of a tyrant?…
It’s odd, never did I expect my death to carry much significance, nor did I expect to be mourned by more than a handful, but it is unsettling to think that my death is not only accepted, but gleefully celebrated by so many. All of these people were so quick to brand me as a traitor, using that sentiment to strip my life of any value… But how could I be a traitor? My own identity is unclear even to me.
“OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” Shouts the King.
With that, I’m forced to my knees. I watch them bring out the pillory, the executioner following closely behind. He dons black leather gloves and a mask, wielding a blade twice the size of any I've ever seen. I shift my gaze upwards, and through the holes in his mask I stare into the eyes of my killer. Eyes which were as black as coal, and as empty as the void. I hang my head as I'm locked into my restraints, feeling the rough wood around my neck and wrists. This is it. I pray to every God I can think of, trying to prepare myself to meet my fate. The executioner now assumes his position, setting his feet and readying his blade. Just as he is about to bring it up, he pauses. He turns his head and stands still for a moment.
The crowd murmurs amongst themselves as they grow impatient, but the king stands and shushes them as he tries to listen as well…
There I hear it. A low rumble in the distance, but it grows louder by the second.
The king seems to sober up in an instant, turning to his men with wide eyes,
“Find our soldiers…"
He says in a shaky voice,
The urgency of the situation finally sinks in, sending the guards escorting me scrambling off of the stage, and sprinting towards the barracks.
The low rumble that we heard before now sounds like thunder. Hooves pound the dirt as hundreds of men on horseback appear on the horizon.
"Get… GET TO YOUR STATIONS," shouts the king as he stumbles backward, trying to retreat to his quarters. "MAN THE WALL, READY OUR WEAPONS, PREPARE OUR DEFENSE—"
He was cut off mid-sentence by an arrow piercing his skull.
The crowd is frantic, running every which way, trampling over one another, trying to find their way to safety. Bells ring out through the city as soldiers march forwards with shields above their heads; Flaming arrows rain down from the sky like hellfire, setting the city ablaze.
The cavalry smash through the gates, yelling out battle cries as they run past. Swords clash against swords as they slash down from atop their horses…
Amidst the battle I hear the shrieks and screams of citizens, but as the battle rages on they are becoming few, and further in between.
I didn’t think anything could be worse than hearing those dreadful screams of agony, but the silence that followed afterwards was even more unsettling… They’re slaughtering them. This isn’t even a battle; this is a massacre. The men on the horses aren’t just killing the soldiers, but the men, the women, and the children too. Blood and dirt runs together and coats the ground with a thick red mud as bodies pile in the streets.
The crackling of fire grows louder, and flames lick at the taunting red banners, stripping the castle walls of their pride. A soldier emerges from the flames. His face is black with smoke, and his hand is on his side. He seems to be nursing a stab wound. As he’s limping towards me, I'm able to make out the symbol of the lion and snake that’s engraved upon his weathered armor. Perhaps I didn’t escape fate after all. He unsheathes his sword with a sharp *shing* and places the cold steel beneath my chin, forcing me to look up at him.
“Did you think you got lucky, boy?" He rattled through his blood stained teeth. I lower my head. I was ready for death's cold embrace hours ago, so I guess it is all the same; this is the end for me. He steps back, raises his sword, and with a *hmph* brings it down with enough force to chop cleanly through a log, let alone my neck. I close my eyes, expecting never to see through them again…
I don’t feel anything. I open my eyes; I can see, I can move my fingers, I breathe and air fills my lungs; I am alive. The soldier's blade had stopped just before it reached my flesh, he seems to be frozen, suspended in some sort of a stasis. As I glance up, my eyes meet his, and all I see is fear. His body remains motionless, incapable of movement. Slowly, his feet lift off the ground, levitating ever so slightly. Then his breastplate caves in. I can hear his bones crunching like twigs beneath the misshapen metal. He attempts to scream, but all that comes out are gurgles. That’s when I see him — a dark-cloaked figure emerging from the shadows, with his hand slightly outstretched towards the soldier. With nothing more than a slight flick of his wrist, the soldier is flung into a pillar, with enough power to shatter the stone like glass.
The figure now approaches me, cloaked in black robes, a shroud of darkness embracing his every move. As he gets closer, his features become more distinct. Silver hair peeks from beneath his hood, and a matching sterling beard frames his features; a scar runs from his neck all the way up to his left eye, which is concealed by black cloth. He moves with a purpose, each step deliberate, exuding confidence in every stride. A shiver runs down my spine, a knot of fear tightening in my stomach. How could he do these things? How did he throw that soldier without touching him?
"What are you?" I ask, "Your powers... are you some sort of a God?" I stammered, or at least I think I did. I still hadn't found my voice yet.
"Less than a God…" He says as he unlocks my restraints with a motion of his hand. "But more than a man… Come, we have work to do."
We walk through the ransacked city. Bodies lie in piles on either side of the cobblestone road we traveled. The same ones who let out cheers and applauded at my impending doom moments ago now lay in heaps, their joy turning to ashes in their mouths. Buildings crumble as the fire rages beneath. A soldier approaches us.
“Lucian!” he shouts, “The city is almost clear, sir. We estimate around 11,000 dead, and around 2,500 unaccounted for, but we have yet to reach the lower levels of the city.”
Lucian briefly looks at the soldier, giving him a nod of approval before setting his gaze straight ahead once again. He doesn’t even bother to look around him, not even at the atrocities he and his army had just committed. He’s completely unfazed, almost as if this is routine. Horrified, i ask,
“How could you do this to these people?”
Lucian chuckles, “These people? You mean the ones who just sentenced you to death?” he scoffs, “You should be thanking me.”
I stop walking, taking a moment to process everything. He’s right, these people were going to kill me, he just killed them first… but… I look up. These were homes that were destroyed; I shift my gaze to the heaps of bodies – some of them were mothers, children... What about the innocent lives caught in the crossfire, I wonder? Were those who condemned me truly irredeemable?
“Who are you?” I ask.
Lucian pauses, and turns to face me,
"An old friend.” He says with a gentle voice as a smile cracks across his face, “I promise you, all of your questions will be answered once we return home. You need just come with me” He tries to grab my arm to pull me along, but I shrug him off.
“No… I need answers now.”
Lucian’s smile dissipates, his demeanor shifts as does his tone,
“Walk with me, or I drag you through the mud behind me like a pig.”
I stand my ground,
“Either give me answers or strike me down where I stand, because I will NOT walk any further.”
Lucian twists his face as he grabs the hilt of his sword… but then pauses. He releases his grip and composes himself once again. Either give me answers or strike me down where I stand, because I will NOT walk any further.”Lucian twists his face as he grabs the hilt of his sword… but then pauses. He releases his grip and composes himself once again.
“Fine, but let us sit.”