After the silence between the two had stretched for several minutes, the Earth Golem finally said, “...Perhaps you are right. But the entirety of what I was did not survive that strike from the Seraphim. I was severed from the mantle I wore. The High King fell that day. My people no longer believe in my power. Without that, I have felt myself… lessor.”
When the Monster Prince turned around, his eyes seemed to twinkle. Instead of replying, he asked, “What is your name, friend?”
The Earth Golem smiled in spite of himself, although it was a short and ugly thing. “What is the point of a name? To me, my title was everything. I would prefer that my name died with the title. So that I might forever be remembered as the man who was High King.”
“Isn’t it okay to want something for yourself?” The Monster King looked down at his hands to avoid the Monster Prince's serious expression. “To wield so much power… responsibilities are constantly heaped on your shoulders. But that does not make you any less the individual who had brought you to that point.”
“It is justice that those with power lead and face the great enemies of their people,” The Earth Golem intoned, still looking at his hands. “That responsibility becomes you. That is your strength, but also your great flaw. The name I had before is meaningless-”
“There was an Earth Golem named Alrick,” the Monster Prince interrupted. “Who craved strength enough to shake an entire Land. And as he built up momentum, the entire Tree of Life would whisper his name. Three Lands joined hands to strike him down, and even then, it was a close thing. A bitter war and an intolerable loss. Right?”
The one who had been High King, who was born to the name Alrick, grimaced. “If you knew my name, why ask, boy?”
“Because I wanted to remind you.” Now, the Monster Prince’s eyes slowly brightened, until they were verdant lanterns. Alrick found himself unable to look away. “There is no shame in failure. There is no shame in learning. So listen well; what would the Earth Golem Alrick think if he saw how things would turn out.”
“He wouldn’t understand immediately,” Alrick said quietly. “But there are some truths that cannot be changed.”
“He wouldn’t understand and wouldn't accept it. That was why he was so strong. He refused such things.”
Alrick’s one remaining hand flexed. In order to calm his agitation, he flicked the pommel of his club. “And he was cast down. He was left for dead and sold to the highest bidder. His fate was taken from him.”
“Fates cannot be so easily taken. It was surrendered out of fear. Not because Alrick was slain, but because the legend of the High King was broken. That Path didn’t lead to the pinnacle. Can you really draw a broader message from your situation than that?” The Monster Prince gestured to the people below. “What would happen if word escaped you were alive? Your hollow threat hid a very real truth; these people would react if they knew you were among them. There would be chaos. That is the weight that you still carry.”
Shaking his head, Alrick growled, “We will never agree on this. So I ask again, why are you here? I need no lecture from a pup who manages charlatans in his own court in his spare time. Your crown was one you were born into. Mine I seized with bloody hands. Do you seek to enlist me into your service? I reject you and all those who hold crowns. If this land cannot be mine, I will carry no king to rule over it. Do you seek some answer to the problem of the crusade? I cannot help you. You are alone in this. Do you-”
“What I want,” The Monster Prince said slowly, “Is to have a friend. To me… What do I care what you might have been? That’s why I asked for your name. No more, no less.”
“You want… a friend?” Alrick blinked several times. When it became clear that he hadn’t misheard, he began to laugh wildly. He pounded his good arm against his thick thigh as if to check if this wasn’t a dream. The young man had prodded all the tightly wound stress and anxiety sitting in his chest for something so inane? “Truly?”
“Why would I lie?” The Monster Prince asked wryly.
“Hmm. Truly, you are as strange as they say…” Alrick said. After rubbing the pommel of his club for several seconds he snorted and said. “Well then. I am known as Alrick. And as to friendship… No. Never. it is impossible. Your people have killed thousands of mine. Due to that, we are forever enemies.”
“...Really? You are going to say no just like that?” For the first time since the Monster Prince appeared, he seemed genuinely surprised. Some of that constant pressure that he emitted evaporated as he looked wide-eyed at Alrick.
Feeling somewhat smug, Alrick nodded. “Of course. Although I have lost my title and my purpose, I will never lose my honor. It is already stretching it enough to not run you through where you stand.”
“For a man without hope, you sure hold tightly to honor,” The Monster Prince said helplessly. Then the prince began to laugh, as the overwhelmed by the sudden refusal. To Alrick’s surprise, he found himself caught up in the strange joy of the moment. The two of them stood on the cliff above the sea of people and laughed for quite some time.
When they finally quieted, Aldrick said seriously, “Duty is what is left of ambition when hope dies. Even though I suspect your path might be the same as mine, I hope you find a different end to your journey, enemy of mine.”
There was a ghost of a smile on the Monster Prince’s face. “Enemies, eh? It feels like I already have too many of those these days.”
“My people have said that it is always best to judge by one’s enemies. Truly, those destined for greatness will not antagonize the weak and crippled.” Alrick said, remembering how serious his mother had looked when she had explained to him the rules to live by. And as he remembered her, his stance softened imperceptibly.
Perhaps Mama was correct, Alrick conceded to himself. Although my life has reached its end… it has meaning, if only to guide those that follow. Without tradition… the glory of what we are would be lost.
“...it seems there is no more to say between us.” The Monster Prince said slowly. “Goodbye, Alrick. I suspect the next time we meet each other… well. Such a place will not be one of words.”
“Mmm,” Alrick rumbled. But as the Monster Prince turned to walk away, Alrick surprised himself by saying, “And you, prince? What is your name?”
For a second, the Monster Prince’s face went blank. But then he simply shrugged.
“Randidly. Randidly Ghosthound.”
“Darrune, do you think I would believe your lies?!” A tall man said, spitting on the ground. But to the tall man’s surprise, Darrune didn’t flinch at all at his aggressive movements. In fact, Darrune seemed perfectly at ease in the canvas chair in which he sat.
“It is true, brother. Would I lie to you? Ask around, many witnessed it.” Darrune said mildly. “Today, a Pontiff arrived at our camp. Upon spotting me, he was so taken by my spear potential that he demonstrated his ultimate move for me and many others. With just a finger, he produced the most perfect attack I have ever seen…! Witnessing it once was enough to increase my Skill Level in Vicious Thrust by 29 Levels.”
At the announcement that Darrune had gained twenty-nine Skill Levels from watching something, the third person in the tent choked on her water. After pounder her chest for several seconds, she regarded Darrune suspiciously. “That’s impossible.”
“I was once like you, unable to see the light,” Darrune said with a sad shake of the head. “But now… well, my eyes are opened. That is why I called the two of you over to speak. There is an opportunity here. My master made it known to me that he wanted a few guards to protect his interests while he was in the area. I am unsure whether he will bother to instruct again, but-”
“But a Pontiff?” The tall man was unconvinced.
“...unfortunately, I did hear rumors about this,” The woman admitted reluctantly. She shot Darrune a barbed glance before continuing. “I heard no word that this was a demonstration, however. They way I heard it, he tried to kill you. He didn’t even need to lift a finger and had you on your knees.”
“Would such a powerful spear user truly have difficulty killing me?” Darrune said with a smile.
In spite of herself, the woman cackled. “Have some respect Darrune. Truly, you are the most shameless man I know. Hmmm, well even if it's just a chance, being taught by a Pontiff… it’s too juicy to pass up. Fine, we will assist your ‘Master’. But if it turns out you have been lying to us…”
“I’ll kill you.” The tall man said, filling in the long pause the woman left. Darrune didn’t even twitch. He simply chuckled. But his eyes sparkled with glee.