I awaken abruptly from my sleep over the thudding at my room's door, the hinges creak and strain with every beat upon it. I feel terrible, looking around my room the early dawn rays are sneaking through my rags for curtains tell me the reason I feel so miserable is due to my double shift had only ended moments previously.
"Watcher!," Whomever it was at my door was being insistent, though not knowing my name told me that it probably was someone who outranked me. This put a bit more speed into my step as I went to respond.
Opening the door a crack, I was ready to present the sleepiest response that I could muster. It should not be too difficult to display how tired I was after pulling a double guard duty shift. Hopefully, they'll leave me to rest after my quick presentation.
I stumbled to the door and just as I opened it a crack the belligerent person on the other side knocked the door practically off the hinges.
"Watcher, you've been reassigned to the main throne room. Go. Now!"
I probably soiled myself on the spot. The person giving me orders was a royal guard. He was huge and muscular in stature. A lot of things started to race through my mind, though all I could manage at this time was a "Who? Me?"
The initial shock of the reassignment took the edge off of how drowsy I was. Nothing made sense right now. Here is a royal guard in his nice fitted leather and chain armor, fastened to his muscled frame and all the other guards were similar, frankly the appearance itself was a necessity. Yet, I did not even look the part, being 5'2" and probably half his weight when soaking wet.
The royal guard must have caught my dilemma, though what he said made my current thought train go from impossible to even worse.
"Look son, you have been promoted and better get to your new station, now, as we are short on manpower due to the queen having most of the royal guard in attendance executed."
Now I was panicking. "Why? H-how!?" I blurted out, yet I knew the latter portion of that question was rhetorical.
He let out a heavy sigh, and I finally realized how tired he looks.
"She had her general do it for some absurd reason. The kitchens took a hit too, so from what I heard, real quick, is that she was choking on something in the first light feast and none of the guards responded quickly enough, so she ordered them executed for insubordination."
I could feel my face pale and start to go clammy at hearing this. It was all too much.
"Report to Overseer Leon at the east service entrance before the sun is fully up. I'm off to go find another thirty candidates for the royal guard, try to keep your head on your shoulders watcher."
With that, he continued down the northeast wing of the barracks of the castle leaving me stunned in the entranceway to my room.
I looked back into my bleak and empty alcove of a room towards my window. The pre-dawn light showed in the sky as I momentarily thought about running. That thought was quickly pushed away from my mind as I recalled what the royal guard said about the executions...
I wanted it to all be a lie, I ruse that was being played on me by a royal guard with too much time on his hands. Though I knew better to tempt my luck, I was just drafted to the most dangerous job in the world just now.
I hurriedly got dressed into my only rough leather armor and made my way quickly to the central tier of the castle.
I used my measly dash skill as that was all I've been able to get, not even a decent charge upgrade, as I went through many of the side corridors.
|Dash: Lv 17
Increase running speed by 85% over short distances.
This was insane. I look nowhere near the part for a royal guard. For one, I was missing probably another hundred pounds in muscle and close to a foot in height.
I was now jogging briskly through the outer cloister of the castle on my way to the central tier for my wretched fate.
The most dangerous job in the world was right!
The queen's personal general was supposed to be absolutely amazing. I've heard of couple bards' songs in passing of some of his fights.
Some told stories of his ruthlessness, which I could understand if he executed enough royal guards that they needed to deal me this cruel task.
The tales of his conquering of the capital city of our neighbors, Lesentia to the south-east said that after a display of his arcane capabilities, the country submitted. No lives except for a few border cities and their royal family were lost.
This, however, is in contrast to some of the skirmishes that the queen was present for and was nothing short of a bloodbath.
Though even in the worst one, the battle on the plains of Tridule. Those on the front lines in the general's battalion all survived to a man and woman. It was said from many of the other soldiers who were rotated into that war that to be at the general's side was akin to a guarantee of survival.
Many of the women seem enamored by some of his history. I would not know why, the tales, rumors, and hearsay depict him as a bipolar invincible monster.
I was deep in thought as I began to make so headway at this point towards my goal. I was in the service side as a shortcut, approaching the kitchens.
I was so lost in thought that I had been moving through the yards and hallways without taking much note of anything.
I realized as I approached a T-junction that two other equally disheveled guards ran past me. Most likely outstripping me with some other skills or combination of them. I rounded the corner and slowed down to fall in step with them.
I would have asked, though it would have been a rhetorical question as the worry on their faces was akin to my own. I knew our fates, our direction was all the same bleak fate.
We all slowed down to a similar pace so that nobody would arrive ahead or behind each other. I realized just how winded I was from my long run to here.
As we continued to make our way through the service area, I could not help but think of what hell awaited me just after the kitchens.
As our impromptu, winded trio approached the kitchens I could hear the cries of children and women.
At this point, it clicked. Even though the royal guard mentioned the fate of his peers. He did not see the kitchen staff as people worth mentioning. However, I knew that the fate of many had probably been the same.
Now I truly appreciated the fear that came with my new position. This would be the first time I would ever have seen the queen or the general.
Our trio finally rounded a corner towards the east service entrance to find two lines of equally disheveled guards, probably ten to a dozen each.
The three of us silently joined the two lines and simply waited. Looking at the number of persons in line there had to of been a lot of good men and women executed for a petty reason.
The only man who looked the part of a royal guard had to be Leon. A final guy joined behind my trio to make the lines even. I guess all the others were possibly notified after me but were able to get here before me. This is bad... I'm so out of my depth here. The man I assumed to be Leon turned to address us and the two lines of guards froze to listen to his address.
He looked very worn down, more so than the royal guard who came to give me my cruel fate.
He cleared his throat and began in a very raspy voice, probably due to a lot of recent yelling.
"Listen up newbies and you had better listen right the first time. we lost a lot of good men this morning for no reason at all. Do not deviate from these orders or you may well get everyone here killed."
This sent a wave of hushed whispers and murmurs through the two lines.
Leon cleared his throat and continued anew.
"Many of you have not seen the inner chamber. You are to enter the room and break off into two directions. This column goes right, this one left."
I was listening intently as if my life depended on it because it did. I was to go right... Wait, wouldn't that be closer to the queen? I started to draw a mental map a realized that my luck just got worse.
Dejected with my fate I continued to listen. "... relieve your charge in front of each pillar. Stand ready, don't move, don't look around like a fool or stare at the queen."
I thought to myself that if the only thing I really had to do was stand still for several hours, this might turn out alright. That would be the silver lining in the clouds, so to speak.
"Most importantly, the royal lineage of Kalta will be due to arrive at any time for their unconditional surrender. The... Remaining royal guards will be escorting them. Only step in if you notice anything out of the ordinary."
This in itself was interesting news. Ever since the queen came to power, which was suspect for foul play seven years ago, we have been in constant war. Despite the continuous wars, our country has faired the best of all the nations.
Seven years I thought. Who would have been able to surmise that someone who was 43rd from the throne would advance to be the queen after the appearance of a mysterious stranger, who is now her general. It is with his help that the queen has been able to achieve so many great things, evil and sadistic though none the less great... in their scope and effect on the world.
All in all, it is the general who does not fit into anything. He appears out of nowhere and with him, the queen went from being 43rd in line to the throne to #1. With him at the reigns of the country's military and in some instances on his own, has managed to lay siege to all other countries.
While it is the general that everyone fears and respects, he is truly the one who controls the country. Without him, the denizens or assassins would stop the queen. Yet even though he is the one respected and who holds the power, his loyalty to the queen has always been seen as odd.
It was at this time, a small chime sang, pulling me from my revelry. Apparently, this was the signal for the royal guard that Leon was waiting for. He motioned for us to proceed all the while having a very sour look to him. With this our two columns of misfit guards advanced towards our fate.
I realized that until this point, I had been too deep in thought to take in the scenery of this inner section of the castle I had never seen.
This would maybe be my chance to see our queen and her general for the first time. As the last of the guards in front of me made their way through the east service entrance I got to see the room ahead of me in all of its splendor.
The first thing I noticed was how cavernous the room was the vaulted ceilings, some thirty or forty feet high. Long white drapes with ornate gold trimming hung from the center of the ceiling. These drapes were huge, some twenty feet in width ran across the ceiling and then down the walls. They had to be several hundred feet in length. They fluttered and rippled gently with some small drafts that were present. These gave the impression of rolling wheat fields as the wind runs through and across them. They made the room so much brighter than the rest of the castle.
My column of impromptu royal guards marched on and veered right closer and closer to the throne area. The acoustics as we marched was impressive to hear though we were out of sync with the echo, which had me mentally cringing.
With my peripheral vision, I could see another set of some twenty guards some two hundred feet south of us taking up their positions. The same was being mimicked on the other side of the room some hundred feet away.
Columns were in place along the walls every fifteen feet and I could see that as we passed one the guard at the front of the lineup would stand beside the guard they were replacing. All the guards currently in place were the actual royal guard and made their replacements look like misfits as they stood side by side.
This did not look good. As our numbers in the row dwindled, I realized that we were approaching the throne which was currently empty. As the replacements were being pulled from the front of the line and me being second last in our group it appears that I would be right beside the throne area...
As the numbers in front of me took their leave, it came to my turn to move beside a hulk of a man. Looking at him before I positioned myself beside him I noted that he barely fit into his dark leather armor. It was as if his muscles screamed at being contained and they were huge. His biceps were probably twice the girth of my neck. I felt very diminutive and out of place here. I knew that I did not belong though was dealt this incredibly poor hand by fate.
After the guard who was behind me took his place in the last available space slightly behind the line of sight of the throne. All the royal guards instinctively took two paces forward and marched southward, towards the exits. Their footsteps sounded as one and as if driving home the last point that those of us who just arrived, did not belong in the slightest.
After the sound of their footsteps faded from within the service entrances, we were finally alone in a room far too big and awkward.
I could hear and wince at the random clearing of a throat, sneeze, or the sounds of some of the guards shifting their weight around. The noise carried all too well, though it slowly decreased in tone and frequency, becoming quieter and quieter.
I thought I would be seeing the queen and her general, though, after an hour of nothing happening and only the guards and a few servants present, more footfalls could suddenly be heard originating from the back.
It was at this point that all the guards started to straighten up further and stand properly at attention. I was just at the left side of the throne and could see a woman clad in far too much jewelry entering the room from behind the throne area.
Her entourage consisted of several male servants in regular servant attire, 2 men in long robes, and one other individual. The other individual was a man, apparently in his late teens or early twenties. He was more akin to the current set of guards then the royal guards. However, he sported a set of darker leathers, with purple trim and lining in places. He had a fairly athletic build and followed the queen closely.
The two men in long robes had sharp eagle eyes surveying everything around them. These men, while their builds were very thin, it was apparent that they were arcanists. Those born in the higher echelons of society were presented with the opportunity to display their affinity with the arcane arts. These individuals could often control many facets of the elements. They could perform miracles, such as heal the sick and wounded, though they could also create droves of sick, wounded, and the dead.
These men at the queen's side were not guards, but more like personal assassins. It was this thought that sent chills down my spine.
The other man accompanying the queen and her personal arcanists did not fit in. He wore clothing that was on par or better than the royal guards. Looking at him he looked to be well cared for, though it was his eyes and his face that told a story of their own. He looked very handsome in his leathers, though his face spoke of nothing more than hating his life. I could not place him for who he was and dismissed him as possibly a companion for the queen.
The queen took her seat and sat at the throne, while the two arcanists stood just behind the throne on either side. There they stood, as if it was an honor, heads held high, arms crossed behind their backs. It was, however, the other man, the companion, that was acting strange. He moved to the wall on the other side of the room and simply leaned back against the wall and slowly allowed himself to slip down to the floor where he continued to brood. The queen and arcanists paid no attention to him and his odd behavior.
I had heard some tales of the queen, though the person that now sat at the throne made all those rumors minor pleasantries. There she sat rotund and toad-like, far too much makeup and jewelry on. The jewelry and makeup could not mask what she was, a vile despicable murderer of millions. Her small beady eyes surveyed the room, displeasure apparent on her face. I broke out in a cold sweat as her demeanor grew more and more displeased with what she saw.
I could not help but look at her, remembering what Leon had said, I tried to remain still and quiet my inner turmoil from displaying on my face. This woman was the one who would sacrifice millions for the sake of her throne, though she did not care about the people. I knew many guards who would go to share their rations out in the city. While our country has waged a nonstop war for almost a decade now, we were no better for it. She was hated by everyone, though feared by all as well.
Well, it was not her that everyone feared, it was what her general would do at her commands.
She was not pleased in the slightest about her new ragtag set of royal guards. I could feel the guillotine hovering as she pursed her lips.
Though it was at this time that her companion, who was slumped against the wall stood up slowly from his previous position. What happened next took me by surprise, he was there against the wall, and then in a quick blur, he was beside the queen whispering in her ear. He had moved so fast that I could not discern his features while moving. However, the queen and arcanists seemed not disturbed at all by his movements, his approach, nor his proximity to the queen. None of them had jumped or flinched, which to me spoke that they were used to it.
He spoke to the arcanist nearest to him to the right of the queen and he responded with a quick "Yes, general" before rushing to the nearest guard on the other side and issuing a string of orders that carried well in the room.
"You there! Go open the main doors to the royal hall, usher the lords and ladies in for the upcoming... events." The last part brought a slow sadistic smile to his face, though I was more hung up on his response to the man that I thought was a companion.
The arcanist had addressed him as general... Could he have meant that this man was 'the' general? I could not stop the string of thoughts going through my mind. This man looked nothing of the part, I had expected someone resembling the previous royal guards or even more. Albeit, his clothing was probably on par.
My thought train was interrupted by a quick flash and yelp from the other side of the room. I looked away from the general to where the flash originated and it was the arcanist with the other guard. There were bright cinders hanging in the air and a stunned guard. My attention now on the conversation on the other side of the room that carried all too well.
"When I give you an order, you do it immediately," he hissed at the guard.
With that the stunned guard, starting a quick jog south towards the primary entrance to this room. I supposed that he was caught in his dismay at the general the same that I was.
My attention turning away from the poor guard that had received some sort of branding punishment from the arcanist back to the man who was the general.
It made sense now, that perhaps he was an arcanist as well and not some monster royal guard. Though too many things did not add up. He looked to be only a teenager so he could not have been with the queen for the past 7 years as they've waged war to the world. I could not seem to reconcile all of my preconceived notions as to who he would be and how he might appear, with the young man that stood not thirty feet away beside the queen.
I turned my attention, once again, away from that man who's face still portrayed that he hated his life to the sounds of many footfalls to the south.
I looked and saw that there were many clad in very nice garments, moving closer, though remaining behind the pillars that the guards were stationed at. Their fine garments spoke of them being lords and ladies. There were probably close to 400 lords and ladies that I could see on the other side of the room. They, however, did not dare approach the column spacing between the guard before me and mine. This was probably the smart thing to do, they were keeping their distance from the queen. They moved forward filling up the spaces in between the column and the cacophony of whispers and hushed voices filled the room.
The queen turned and snapped twice at the arcanist that had returned to the queen's side.
She bellowed at him, "Music, now!" her tone reminded me of that of a spoiled child's demand.
The man strode away and a few moments later a pleasant background of music began to fill the room from closer to the main entrance.
It was shortly after the music had begun that it stopped and I could see four of the real royal guards escorting two individuals through the middle of the room towards the queen.
This must have been the event that Leon had mentioned. For the escort had essentially boxed in an older man, still vibrant and strong despite having only short white hair. He wore some scuffled attire, though it still spoke of noble or royal title that was held. Beside him walked the most beautiful of creatures, she had probably not seen more than twenty winters. She wore a beautiful blue dress, very fitted on her upper torso, and expanded to a very nice flowing dress that trailed behind her ever so slightly. It was possible to see a little bit of her legs and her foot attire was very slim black leather straps wrapped around her feet and caffs. While she held up the front of her dress slightly to allow for her to keep pace with her escorts, her hands were trembling, she was doing her best to not display it, though she was afraid. It was apparent that the escort of royal guards and the two charges were all afraid as they approached the queen who sat there with a bemused smile on her face at the approaching party.
Once they came to a halt in front of myself, the royal guards in the back of escort forced the man and the woman to the floor. The man tried to help his daughter briefly as she toppled from the force of the royal guards. It was at this time that the queen herself stood up, which took a little too much effort at first. She approached the duo and started to speak to the crowd. Her voice carried well in the room as the two charges only stared up at her.
"I, queen Teramina Eshrow the first, have here before me, the king of Laytash, our enemies to the southwest." the queen began while ignoring the attempted interruption from the king.
"We are not!.. oof..." I winced at the blow the royal guard gave the king to stop him in the midst of his protest.
"Our kingdom's magnificence has often afforded us to win battles and wars without needing to pick up arms." She continued while slowing to a stop before the king and looking down upon him.
"And even when force was necessary, the strength of our kingdom broke our enemies effortlessly..." Sets of cheers and jeers exploded throughout the halls at this point. The queen allowed the cheers to continue for a bit before raising her arms beckoning silence. A silence that swept the halls almost instantly, keenly awaiting what the queen had yet to say.
The queen turned around and walked up to her throne and turned to look back at the king and daughter as she sat down. The daughter now was shaking uncontrollably and on the verge of retching from her stifled hiccups. She did her best to cover and muffle the sounds barely escaping her, though the queen, now taking note of the girl, looked at her with disgust and loathing on her face.
"Your daughter I see, from your late wife I take it."
It was apparent that the king did not enjoy the topic changing to his daughter and wife. A scowl briefly flitted across his face upon having the queen mention his late wife. The queen's eyes bore down upon the girl, disgust showing on her face at the sight of the pretty princess. The queen then noticeably relaxed and turned to the general.
"General! Execute the brat and the groveling king. However, execute the poor flower first." Fear and shock hit the father and daughter. I could not believe what I was about to witness. I knew that this could happen and I was someone relieved it was not me, though a public execution here!? I did not know what to do, there was nothing I could do.
The general slowly began to make his way towards the father and daughter. He moved slowly towards them, no haste or hesitation in his step. Simply a calm stroll towards the pair. The royal guards went stiff, they wanted nothing to do with what was coming.
The king, however, pushed through his panic and pleaded while still on his knees.
"No! The ambassador's word was given, that we would not be harmed. Our surrender was a peaceful one, to end all bloodshed. Please, you mustn't!" He reached towards his daughter who's shaking and retching now began in earnest. He pulled her in tight, close to him. The general now having covered half the distance, slowly started to unsheath the sword on his left side.
"Why must you do this!!! You now control all the lands that there ever will be! Please spare my daughter, execute me, but please, spare my daughter!" It was at this that the general stopped mid-stride, sword half unsheathed.
The general paused briefly and smiled slightly as he turned towards the queen.
"Your highness, the king of Laytash is correct. Anything further is pointless and you now control this world's lands... he he he" he calmly expressed as his smile grew more and more pronounced with a small chuckle at the end.
"How dare you question me! those were orders! I order to continue the execution!" the queen spat. She was upset and confused at the actions of her general. Though what clearly showed on her face, was shock. As to why she was shocked, I could not fathom as I gazed upon the situation.
At this, the general chuckled and continued,
"No, I need not follow your orders anymore," harsh whispers broke out throughout the hall at hearing this statement from the general.
"You now effectively control the world my belated queen and thus, our contract is complete, I need no longer obey your commands" silence again blanketed the hall while faint whispers could be heard echoing further down the hall. This made no sense to me, the general from all the stories was fearsomely obedient to the queens every wish, whim, and fancy. He was the pivotal foundation that held the army's in check and now he openly disobeyed the queen?
"You must do as I say, it had all been forged in blood!" The queen was up and shrieking towards the man in front of the king and daughter. The two of them looked equally shocked at what was transpiring.
"My time here is done and you are my master no more, reap what you have forced me to sow for you."
Listening to this last remark, everything seemed to simply click into place. All I needed to know was that the general was abandoning the queen. Her rule and foundation was this one individual and for whatever reason, he had decided to now abandon her. I was less than a stone's throw from the queen. I knew that today was a bad day and that I was going to die in this new position sooner rather than later, the general had abandoned her, the queen tyrant was now alone shrieking at him to obey her. I knew not what came over me, though I thought that all the suffering could end, all of it could very well end right here, right now.
|*New Skill Gained*
Dead Man's Gambit: Lv 1
Sacrifice all defenses for 100% boost to speed, 100% boost to attack for 1 attack. The user will have all stats reduced to 1 for 10 days.
I started to use my dash skill towards the queen and it seemed that my dark thoughts gave me a new skill, if the general truly abandoned her, then I could, I might be able to. As I dashed towards her, I used my new skill, the weight of my armor and my fatigue simply became non-existent and everything seemed surreal at this point. I saw motion in the corner of my eye and I thought that another guard was trying to stop me. I am not already dead, I was still alive, I am alive... The new skill must be affecting how I view myself and my current state of survival. If I'm alive that must mean that the general truly did abandon the queen, otherwise from the stories, I'd have died on simply taking my first step. Every muscle in my being burned, I needed to end this before I was ended by the other guards.
The queen turned towards me and shock was the only thing I could see on her face as I covered the last couple steps. My sword pulled from its scabbard, the tip of my sword aimed, I closed my eyes, letting my weight and motion carry me as I braced myself to be skewered by the other guards. I grit my teeth as I hear shrieks and gasps fill the room. I braced myself for what I could only hope would be a quick death for myself.
After a few more shrieks echoed throughout the hall. I opened my eyes, perplexed at what was not happening. I felt like a stiff breeze could end me, my breathing was labored and the backlash from that skill had settled in earnest.
There stood the queen staring over my shoulder towards the general. My sword, hilt deep and my hand hot and sticky. It was then that I noticed the other sword blades protruding the queen. One had gone clean through her from the other side and the point stuck out just to the left of my by own hilt. On either side of me were two other guards that looked sick and equally perplexed as I felt. I let go of my sword and stepped back from what I had just done. The others did the same and she slowly slumped to the ground, never taking her eyes off the general.
Chaos was ensuing with the nobles running and fleeing. However, the guards, the arcanists, the general and king, and daughter, long forgotten in the ensuing chaos remained motionless, watching the queen slowly fall to the ground.
After a few more moments, the hall was next to empty and the guards were slowly gathering to see what had happened.
One of the royal guards for the king and daughter moved towards the general and quickly asked;
"Sir, your orders?"
The general ignored and turned past him towards the king and the daughter and offered to help them to their feet. The king refused and helped himself and his daughter up as they backed up a few steps into the surrounding guards.
"Why did you help us? What is to happen now to us" The king asked as he looked from the general to myself and the other regicides and then back to the general.
"I know not, for I cannot walk this path with you, my time here is nigh now that I've been released from my contract."
Another guard interrupted and asked,
"Then what... you are to abandon us, what should we do? What can we do?" his questions were met with several nods from others and a few whispers between other guards.
"That is not for me to say, there are no more wars to be had, the ruler dead without any heir. This is an opportunity for even greater unrest and war or perhaps and hopefully for an era of peace."
"If not you, then who?" Spoke a voice in the back.
Everyone flinched as the general quickly looked up towards the vaulted ceiling and watched as he slowly broke off from the group. Once clear of the main group and at a stop, faint circles of light on the floor at his feet started to form around him.
"My time is almost up, you have a king and potential future queen in your midst. I would ask that you entrust your future to those who know and want peace and not to those who only know war."
Everyone was quickly moving away as the veins of light grew deeper in black and dark reds. I noticed then, that the circles were not simply rings and were actually runic circles with many foreign symbols. They grew in brightness and a few lept off the floor merged onto his skin and armor. We were now witnessing arcane magic to which none of us normal guards had ever seen. I glanced briefly at the arcanist in the group and was looking at the general in nothing short of awe and shock. When looking back at the general, I noticed that I could see through him now, as unknown runes flitted across his face in an almost evil and foreboding fashion. I could make things out that were behind him and he appeared as if to be made out of smoke and fading. The rings of symbols and scrawl continued to crawl across him as he faded. His last words fading with him and the magic circles.
"Please, do not repeat the past.. and. forgive... me..." were his final words upon disappearing entirely.
People stayed clear of where he had been and started to look around from one to another and then to the king of Laytash. Confusion on many of our faces.
Thus, came a close to the worst day of my life and the beginning of a new era for our people. While turbulent at first, this marked the start of an era of peace that all would hope would last forever.