7 years later
"You can do better than that Kaius!" Shouted the trainer as he watched Kaius fight. The young prince was locked in a sparring match with his best friend Tyr Highlander, and seemed to be doing well. The two were locked in an intense sword fight but holding back on each other. Kaius swung his sword only for it to be blocked by Tyr's shield pushing the prince back and charging forward and bashing him back with the shield. Kaius kicked Tyr back and swung his sword at his friends’ head who ducked quickly and blocked another attack with his own sword. Kaius was shoved back once more but this time when Tyr came for him, Kaius jumped and kicked Tyr's shield, forcing the young warrior back and leaving him open for attack. Kaius ran forward and slid to the ground, sweeping his leg at Tyr's feet and tripping the man, sending him crashing onto his back. He pointed his sword at his fallen comrade who smiled before kicking the sword out of Kaius' hand. He rolled back onto his feet and lunged his sword forward, scraping against Kaius' armor as he just barely dodged it. Tyr kicked away Kaius' sword and swiped at him, actually managing to scar Kaius just above the eyebrow. Tyr kicked him back and Kaius fell over, losing his shield and the fight as the mentor called it off.
"That is all!" He exclaimed as Kaius dusted himself off. He walked over to the young prince and patted his shoulder before picking up the shield and dusting it off. He called over Tyr and made them look at the shield. "Brilliant fighters the both of you. I would expect nothing less... however-"
"Oh boy," Tyr sighed. "Every time he says that it means we fucked up somehow."
"Speak for yourself. I think I did well," said Kaius, smiling.
"Oh Is that why you lost?"
"I ‘lost’ because I was holding back."
"That’s probably why you have a scratch on your eyebrow now."
"A lucky strike! And a weak one too now that we’re bringing attention to it." He laughed. The mentor called for their attention and had them look at the shield.
"I was going to say you did well however you need to realize that a shield is not just for protection." Tyr scoffed. "You doubt my advice mister Highlander?"
"Only a lot." The mentor smiled.
"Perhaps you would prefer a demonstration over meaningless words, eh?" Tyr raised an eyebrow while the mentor looked at Kaius.
"Go get your sword boy. You need to learn this lesson too." Kaius did as he was told and ran for his sword as the mentor told the both of them to fight him. Kaius and a Tyr looked at each other quizzically before looking at their mentor.
"You sure about this old man?"
"I'm tougher than I look. Come at me. And don't hold back in the slightest. Got it?" The two of them looked at each other again before shrugging and moving in to attack. The mentor was not dressed in any armor and instead wore robes which left him unprotected to any attacks however when Kaius and Tyr descended upon the old man, he blocked nearly every incoming sword swing and dodged those he couldn't. His speed wasn't what you would expect from someone who looked like they were pushing 60 but he managed to place Kaius and Tyr on their asses several times. Tyr sat up and slashed his sword forward, the attack only grazing the shield as he attacked again and again. He kicked the shield which forced the mentor back as he soon protected himself from an underhanded attack to his back by Kaius. This left him open to an attack from Tyr who took advantage and swung his sword at the old man. He ducked just in time and quickly jabbed Tyr in the armpit, the one place he knew the armor didn't protect. Tyr's entire arm felt as if it was going numb and the old man kicked away his sword before before kicking Tyr back and sweeping his leg at Kaius' feet who vaulted over the old man's shield and carried his friend back up. The old man laughed as the both of them prepared themselves for another battle, not willing to give up just yet.
Their mentor smiled smugly as Kaius rushed at the man, his sword striking with swift precision even though every possible attack did nothing but tap metal as each one was blocked. Tyr ran in and jumped over his friend, letting out a ferocious warriors cry as he landed on the old man's shield and forced him to the ground under his weight. The mentor was stunned but not for long as he rolled backwards and set himself back on his feet before being assaulted by Kaius and Tyr at the same time. The both of them were relentless in their attacks and were working together so flawlessly it was as if they were one person. The old man pushed them back before lunging forward and punching Kaius then turning to backhand Tyr with the shield. He soon moved to punch Tyr with the shield edge but Kaius stepped in and shoved the old man aside. Tyr vaulted over his friends back and swung the sword at the old man who dodged out of the way and rushed forward, pushing both Tyr and Kaius back. The old man no longer played passively and moved on to full on offense as he soon struck Tyr's hand with the edge of the shield and jabbed at Kaius with the shield, forcing him to the ground. He quickly got up and grabbed Tyr's fallen sword before spinning like a cyclone at the old man, each attack only hitting the shield before Kaius swung his leg at the man's feet. This maneuver failed at the old man jumped over Kaius' leg and forced him back with the shield before grabbing him by the collar of his armor and throwing him into Tyr, the both of them sent crashing to the ground.
They were both exhausted. Tyr pushed his friend off of him and sat up.
"That doesn't prove anything. You taught us. Of course you would be a better fighter than us."
"The two of you together nearly brought me down several times during that fight. Your attack patterns are far too easy to counter. Today I have learned much about you two. I have trained you since you were children and today showed me something important... you both depend on each other too much." He pointed at Kaius. "You are very passive and defensive. You attack only to set up Tyr and when he fails you go and protect him, foregoing your own safety for his. It is admirable to want to protect your friend and it is always good to play defense, but such a thing can only work for so long. Should your defenses fall, what will you do then?"
"I will fight."
"And you will lose. To be blunt, Young prince, your offensive game is lackluster. If you wish you be king, you must be a perfect balance of sword and shield. Being exclusively one or the other spells disaster for the city."
"This city is already a disaster if you ask me." Tyr mumbled.
"Nobody asked you! And speaking of you mister Highlander," he pointed at the boy. "You need to work on your defense. Your strikes are strong, I’ll give you that, but that is not nearly enough. You never protect yourself in battle. A terribly unwise tactic.”
“My plan is always to bring my opponent down before they can bring me down.”
“And it makes you terribly predictable.” Tyr sighed. “Anyone with half a brain will know that evasion is the best course of action and defense is the next best thing when fighting you. You will see soon enough, child. Just you wait.” The old man removed his shield and placed it next to Kaius. "But that will be all for today. The both of you go rest up and we'll continue tomorrow." Kaius and Tyr groaned and simply collapsed onto the floor from exhaustion. Their mentor laughed. He dusted himself off before catching eye of the Queen as she walked over from the palace to greet them.
"Queen Elan. Always a pleasure to see you." Kaius sat up and was surprised to see his mother who kneeled by him and hugged him.
"Mom? What are you doing here?" She smiled.
"I came to see you for a bit before I left."
"She's leaving?" Tyr asked.
"She said she was going over to her sister’s house in Ravens Borough."
"She's going all the way over there? Isn't that a bit... dangerous?"
"Tyr is right," said the old man. "It is awfully dangerous to leave the boundaries of the city. And with little protection at that. The King can't exactly give many guards."
"Three is enough for me and I am sure I will be fine. We will draw as little attention as we can. I won't be dressing in my fancy royal robes and we won't be traveling by horse."
"Sounds time consuming.”
"Anything to minimize any problems. May be a while before I return," she said rustling Kaius' hair. "But I will return nonetheless. Be safe and make sure your father gets out. Sometimes he can get a little stir crazy staying in that palace all day. Take care of him for me while I'm gone."
"Of course. I was thinking about going to see him anyway." Elan smiled and kissed Kaius' head before saying her goodbyes and leaving for the city gate. Kaius had gotten up and walked to the barracks where he gotten himself dressed in his normal clothes and left to the palace where his father was resting. He spoke with the servants and they each told him that the King wasn't doing much better. Kaius' father had been hit with a strange illness that weakened his lungs and heart. It came in the dead of night and was something no one had ever seen before. The sickness made him look older than he already was, pushing his age up to nearly 80 despite being 57. He had a terrible cough, each one sounding worse than the last and one time he said he felt like his heart had stopped. The only thing that seemed to keep it at bay was moving around but that was getting harder and harder to do. Kaius poked his head into the room. He saw his father on his back and almost asleep before he opened his eyes and saw his son. A smile crawled across his face.
"Kaius..." was all he could muster. The young prince walked up to his father and sat by his bedside. The King groaned as he sat himself up, his son saying he didn't have to but he nonetheless did. King Kaius looked... ech. He was not a person you could stand to look at for long. His nails had grown to the length of swords, thick and yellow and his hair was like a crow’s nest. Worse. It was like a polar bear was permanently glued to his head. The length of his hair reached down to his feet and covered his face and every time he exhaled, the hair in his face blew out of the way for a second before resting back in front of his mouth. His skin had more wrinkles than the oldest tree had rings on its trunk. His face was so wrinkled that his eyes stayed shut even when he tried his hardest to open them. Even if he could open them he would get nothing but a view of his grey hair. His bones felt softer than wet paper and nearly every move he made hurt him, but he didn't dare look so weak in front of his subjects.
"How was training today?" The King asked, his voice sounding as if it was being dragged against sandpaper.
"It went well. Ha. The old man taught us that using a shield is just as important as using the sword. He kicked our asses but Tyr thinks he just got lucky." The king laughed before coughing.
"I bet he did," he said before coughing again. "Your mother said she knew you would like him. I remember going toe to toe with him myself just to test his skills. He blocked every single damn attack I could toss out. His game has always been outlasting an opponent rather than over power them. Ha ha ha. I've only managed to beat him once and never again after that." Kaius leaned in.
"How'd you do it? Ya never know when that information might be useful." The King chuckled.
"Nice try. It'll never work out. Ilor is very good at adapting to the situation. Should you strike him once, he switches his style in a way so that makes it so you never tag him like that ever again." The King coughed. “I would give anything for a skill like that.” He spoke with a very tired voice. One weighed down by past mistakes and wasted time, hated memories and pitiful actions. "I wonder everyday what I could have accomplished if I had that..." Kaius bumped his fist with his dad’s hand.
"Careful there. Soon you'll start to sound like an old man." The King laughed then started to cough again.
"You're-you're right. Sorry." Kaius smiled.
"Ma is gone ya know."
"Yeah. Yeah she came and told me before she left. I gave her the best guards I could spare."
"Well while she's gone, she told me to make sure that you get up and move around. Can't have ya laying in this bed the entire time." The King groaned but still had a smile on his face.
"I'll be fine."
"Ah ah ah. I ain't taking no for an answer. Come on. Let's get you movin." Kaius helps his father climb out of bed and did his best to hold him up. They both took a few steps before the King began to walk alone, each step making him wince in pain.
"Fuck, it’s like walking on nails."
"You need a cane or something?"
"No! No," he said nearly falling over. He clenched his fists and his breathing accelerated. "If I get one of those, I'll be relying on it my entire life. Or what's left of it..."
"Stop talking like that."
"Kaius, my boy, I think it's time we face facts." He coughed violently. "There's nothing that can be done. I'm not gonna be around for much longer."
"It's true and we both know it." He leaned against the wall for a bit before standing on his own for a moment. "I don't know how long I have left, but I need... I need you to be prepared for the day I won't wake up. We both know it's coming."
"Unless we find a cure before it's too late." The King grabbed his sons arm and made him look at him. He pushed the hair out of his eyes to reveal blood red eyes, the veins in them almost pulsating with either anger or just from the sickness. It was almost sickening to look at but Kaius forced himself to meet his father’s gaze.
"Boy, stop this." Even in his current state, the King sounded ready to tear a man's head off. "There is no curing me. There is no saving me. There is nothing that can be done. And even if by some grace of Zara I was cured tomorrow, I am very old. Too old to lead these people. They need a young face. A fresh face. And I am neither of those." Prince Kaius tried to reply before his father silenced him. "I don't want to hear it!" He let go of his son. "That is all that can and will be said of this issue." Prince Kaius sighed.
"I fear you're being closed minded, father." King Kaius laughed.
"You sound just like your mother."
"Well someone's gotta." They both laughed as they finally reached the backdoor to the palace and when the opened it, they saw the beautiful blooming garden that grew right behind the palace. It was a truly beautiful sight. Roses and daffodils, sunflowers and lavender lilies, daisies and orchids and especially lotus'. The garden was truly the only attractive thing in Blackwood. It took work to make this. A lot of work. And it took even more to keep it this perfect. Both Kaius’ walked through the forest and simply took in the atmosphere. King Kaius stood as still as stone, feeling the slight breeze blow against his skin.
“Kaius...” said the smiling King.
“I want you to know something.” Prince Kaius looked at his father. “If you are to succeed, you need to have allies. Friends. Brothers and sisters in arms. Even if it’s just one. Someone is better than none at all.” The prince stood next to his father and looked out over the garden.
“Who were your friends?” The King laughed.
“Until I met your mother, none. Not a lot of people wanted to be associated with the ‘King of the Dead’.” He spat out the last few words, the memories of this dad past crawling up his spine like a spider and worming their way into his head again. After all the years he still hated that name.
“Not gonna lie dad… that name sounds kinda cool.” The King smiled even though deep down he still felt grief. He looked at his son and patted his shoulder.
“If only you knew how I got that title. Wouldn’t be too cool then.” The King turned away. "Well let's continue the walk shall we. I can feel my bones tightening just standing here." He started to shuffle away while Prince Kaius remained just a bit longer to take in the tranquility of the garden. It was... quiet.
Elan felt uncomfortable in her rags. She wasn't used to wearing anything that wasn't her royal robes but she realized that safety was the biggest issue in this country. She needed to look as inconspicuous as possible. The three guards with her wore similar rags but held swords under them just in case any issues arose. The road from Blackwood to the minor village of Ravens Borough was clear cut but went through the dangerous and immensely dense forest that remained between them. It was the only way into and out of Blackwood thought and with all of the craziness that surrounds the country with everyone fighting everyone, she needed to be sure if her sister was okay. She had sent several messengers but none returned. You may be wondering why she would choose to go herself since the messengers didn't make it. They wore the traditional royal messengers garb which made them stand out as clearly important characters. No other person would be the messenger after the first two disappeared so Elan had to go herself. They had to get by several thieves and thugs that just leeched off of the territory and its people. All seemed well so far.
"My Queen, I'm not sure this was the best course of action to take."
"And what, pray tell, would you say is the best?" The guard didn't respond. "If I can't get someone to do something for me, then I'm going to have to do it myself."
"But Queen Elan-"
"When I need your opinion, I’ll ask for it." This silenced him quickly while Elan began to mumble herself, thinking critically on what the guard said. Perhaps... he was correct. Maybe they should head back. She would have thought more about it before part of her rags got caught on a tree branch and soon ripped when she pulled it, revealing more of her upper leg than she wanted.
"At least we may fit in more with the peasantry." Elan wanted to curse at him but he spoke truth so she bit her tongue and continued onward. The forest looked as if it was a rotting corpse. It looked grotesque and the trees were an unhealthy grey. It was as if all of time in the forest was frozen as birds were heard flying but none were seen, bushes rustled and owls hooted but, again, nothing was ever seen. There were times where eyes could be seen but you could blink and whatever was there was gone. The roots of the trees didn't dig into the ground but rather they stuck out of the ground and attached themselves to the bushes and you could actually see them moving. They pulsated, like ones neck does when gulping down gallons of water. They sapped the life from the surrounding shrubbery like a vampire would. The air was dead, like smoke coveted the face and lungs of the occupants. It was impossible to get through without feeling as if your lungs were going to ignite. But the most noticeable thing had to be the sun. It was nonexistent. The grey leaves blotted out the sun perfectly and gave a permanently cold atmosphere as well as giving the impression that it was midnight. Add this forest to the list of reasons why no one likes to come to Blackwood.
Fits of coughing littered through the four travelers as they soon began to run through the smoke filled forest. They couldn't keep their eyes open long enough to see where they were going as they kept tripping on the way towards the exit. Their senses betrayed them as the trees groaned as if someone was being stabbed, leaves and bushes rustled and crows were heard cawing.
"Keep running! Don't stop for anything!" Elan shouted though whether the guards could hear her was questionable. When they finally burst out of the forest their rags now covered in soot, they noticed that one of them was gone. Three guards dropped to two.
"Where is Alix?"
"Last I saw him he was right behind us."
"You left him behind?" Shouted one of the guards.
"I didn't see you stop to help him!"
"If I had known I would have!"
"Fucking liar! You would have left him to suffer without a second thought!"
"Hey!" Elan exclaimed. "Both of you shut up! What could have been done is irrelevant. Alix is gone. What matters most is that we made it through the forest." She looked forward and saw the minor village of Raven's Borough. She gave an exhausted sigh and walked towards the village. The two guards looked at each other.
"Shouldn't we go back to try and rescue Alix?"
"You wanna go back in there?" They both looked at the grey and smoking forest and one of them swore that he heard a voice calling them back in. But it was far from a cry for help. It was something much more bone chilling. They both shuddered and agreed that going back in was a stupid idea. If Alix was still in there, he would be dead soon. Cruel to say but there is no sugar coating it. They both chased after the Queen, remaining by her side in a way that was still escorting her but also sticking to her side for protection.
Raven’s Borough wasn’t at all like Blackwood. The plant life was green blooming, vibrant and singing. That’s not metaphor either. If you got close enough to the plants you could actually hear them singing. They had Roses, Lilies and Lavenders. The roses sung a sonorous low tone that made ones skin crawl with blissful admiration for the intensity of it. The Lilly’s gave a soft soprano that warmed one’s heart while the Lavenders gave off a tenor tone, all of them growing ecstatic when a gardener came and watered them. Elan smiled and wiped some of the dirt off her face before approaching the gardener.
“Olara?” The woman turned around. She was a fairly thin woman, bronze skinned and black haired with braids that went down the length of her back before just ending above her behind. Her pecan colored eyes widened as she saw her fair skinned sibling.
“Sister!” She hugged her tightly, an obvious smile shining off her face like light off of the Ocean. The two of them remained in a tight embrace for a while before Olara guided her sister and her guards into her home. It was nothing special, a simply little brown and white painted hovel that housed a few plants in it to add some color. She had a small pet that walked up and licked her hand, barking cutely. Olara pet the little beast and Elan gave a small gasp of shock. The pet acted like a simple pet dog but looked nothing of the sort. He had bright purple eyes and a coat design that one moment looked green and brown before shifting to pink and blue. It constantly changed, almost looking like a rainbow at times.
"Still living in this small hut are you?" Elan quipped while Olara brought a small glass of herbal teas over to her sister and even made some for the guards who thanked her.
"Queen Elan and her sister look nothing alike." Whispered one of them.
"Perhaps they are not really sisters."
"Maybe the queen is adopted."
"Maybe her sister is adopted."
"Maybe you two need to speak quieter," said the Queen sternly. Olara smiled at the guards who cleared their throats and sipped from the glasses nonchalantly.
"To answer your question before, not everyone can afford to live in a castle, Ms. Queen." The two of them chuckled. "Speaking of the castle, how is everyone? I've heard that things are... falling apart."
"Yeah. Things aren't the best in Blackwood."
"They never seem to be." Olara interrupted.
"The city is practically dead at this point. It's sad to say but there is nothing Kaius and I can do to make the city any better. And no one seems fit to help us. All the land we did have was taken away by bigger and stronger provinces or simply just left us behind since we couldn't really stop them. Remember when this place used to be a part of Blackwood?" Olara smiled as she looked out the window of the house to the dark forests in the distance.
"I remember that clearly. The city seemed... really shitty." She laughed and Elan punched her arm. "I'm sorry but Blackwood's poor status was just seeping over. Like a sickness. Everything connected to that poor place was like a wounded dog. Just put it to sleep. Save it from the misery." Olara’s dog whined and backed away before being pet on the head. “Not you boyo! You’re too perfect.” Elan was working together and argument in her head but I just wasn’t easy to debate what her sister said.
"But enough about that bull. I haven't seen you in years. How's baby Kaius?" Olara asked taking a sip from her tea glass. Elan breathed in then out.
"Not a baby anymore. He's much older."
"Really? I haven’t seen him since he was 2. Is he... I mean with the city all old and whatnot is gonna be possible for him to still gonna be King?" Elan closed her eyes and took a drink from her glass again before sighing. She didn't know how to answer. She didn't want to answer because she didn't like to say it. But...
"He might not be for long." There was a silence. The guards had even started to listen.
"What do you mean?"
"There has to be a total of maybe... 300 people left in the city? Not nearly enough people to make an army of and more and more are trying to leave. Kaius and the people there might have to dissolve the place and move everyone to a safer district." Olara frowned.
"He's not gonna like that."
"Prolonging suffering is wildly unfair to his subjects."
“I wouldn’t say they’re suffering,” Olara began. “Just not happy.” Elan took a sip from her glass before a scream was heard outside. Everyone in the room froze before one of the guards went to the window and looked outside. Immediately an arrow flew through the open curtains and stuck the guard right in the eye. He fell to the ground quickly, already dead before hitting the ground and once he did, his comrade and Olara screamed. The guard calmed himself and ran to the window, not opening it but holding his sword and telling the queen and her sister to hide. Elan flipped the table over and used it for cover and pulled her sister and her dog behind it. The guard grabbed his fallen partners sword and soon the room was infiltrated by a Feraci, Fox like in appearance dressed in tribal rags and clothing. He held a long spear and had white face paint on, his face scrunched up into s snarling position as he burst into the room. He turned around and saw the guard with his back against the wall and lunged his spear forward. The guard dodged it and swung one of his sword at the spear, slicing it in half and then swung his other sword at the Feraci who ducked under the attack and swept his leg at the guards feet.
From behind the table, Olara’s dog growled and his fur pattern changed red as he ran forward and bit the Feraci’s tail. The fox screamed and tried to pull his tail away before being stabbed through the stomach by the guard. He had a look of shock on his face before he fell to the ground with a heavy thud. The dog wagged it’s tails and panted happily.
“Good boy. My Queen! We must go! Now!” The guard shouted. Elan got up and brought her sister and her dog with them as they left the house and began make a break for the stables. Surely there were horses or something to get them out of the city. As they ran through the village, the houses soon began to ignite and smoke crossed over the sky, the fires soon touching the grass and burning just about anything and everything nearby. One of the Feraci attackers had thrown their spear an the guard which stabbed through his leg and brought him to his knees. Elan turned around to help him before she was grabbed by another Feraci. The two of them wrestled for dominance but he was coming out on top quite easily. He was so close. So aggressively close to her that she could feel his breath. It smelled of rotten meat and musky air. It made her feel unclean and made her skin crawl. She fought as hard as she could to shake him off before kneeing him in the stomach and then biting his neck. When he backed away in pain, she grabbed the sword and held it high before crashing it down with all her might directly onto his skull, cracking it open like an egg. The blood splattered across her clothes and her face and she screamed in emotional turmoil. She let go of the sword and did her best to gather herself while Olara went to the guards side and pulled the spear out of his leg.
The guard wasn’t doing too well as when Olara held him up, he couldn’t put much pressure on his leg and relied on her to hold him. But she was nowhere near strong enough to hold him up. Especially with all that armor adding to the weight.
"Elan! I need help over here!" she screamed to her sister but she was lost in her own world. Elan was freaking out as she teetered back and forth, her legs uneasy and her eyes shifting around the burning landscape. Her heart felt as if it was going to leap out of chest and the blood on her face almost burned. She began to shiver violently as if she were left in the middle of a snow storm.
"Elan! Snap out of it!" Olara shouted but to no avail. It wasn’t safe out here. She commanded her dog to wake her up and he ran up to her bit her legs lightly. Elan jumped and kicked the dog who whimpered loudly and scurried away from her. It was then Elan snapped out of her trance and apologized.
“Feel sorry later! We have to go! Help me get him up!" Elan quickly pet the dog she had hurt, to which he yipped happily, before she helped Olara carry the guard to stables. When they got there however, the stables were already set ablaze with the horses inside it burning alive, their helpless neighs echoed to the skies, the smell of burning flesh and horse meat corrupting the already sickening air. With their only way out now going up in smoke, the three of them were at a loss of what to do. With the smoke getting more and more thick, there only solution was to simply run. Run as fast as their legs could carry them out of the burning village, sadly having to ignore the cries for help they heard and simply escape the city boundaries. When they escaped, the guard was barely hanging on by a thread, so they slowed down and lay him on the ground.
They were on a path that would eventually lead them to the province of Tynesire. It was spacious with nothing but grassy plains along the path. Suddenly they all heard Olara’s pet release a powerful scream as he fell over onto his side unmoving, an arrow sticking out of his stomach.
“Kyne!” Olara shouted before being struck in the chest by another arrow. Elan looked behind her but didn’t even get to see her assailants before an arrow struck her in the eye. She felt her entire body go cold in less than a second as she hit the floor with weightless care. It was so sudden she didn’t even feel the impact.
"Prince Kaius!" Said one of the palace servants. "Please wake up!" Kaius sat up and wiped his eyes clean before looking at the servant, their eyes red with tears and clutching his hand.
"What? What is it? What happened?"
"It’s your father! He’s not waking up!" Kaius’ eyes widened and he jumped up from his bed and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He burst into his father’s room and simply saw him lying there, eyes closed and in a sleeping position. He ran over and nudged his father.
"Dad? Dad wake up." He kept shaking him and began to do so more vigorously. "Dad! Dad!" He kept shouting. But he would not wake. Kaius leaned his ear closer to his father’s mouth, hopefully to hear his breathing but there was again nothing. Prince Kaius could do nothing but cry. Cry tears for the man who raised him, the man who gave him guidance, loved him only the way a Father could and always made time for him even in his later hours of life. Kaius... he simply held his father’s unmoving hand and cried. An indescribable amount of despair came over his heart, so much so he thought he might die himself. Kaius cried until the coming of the sun where he was finally approached by the palace servants and ushered to bury his father. He refused and instead asked for his cremation to which they agreed to. The day was quiet. Kaius didn’t say an entire word the whole time. They were prepared to start when, just before the funeral rites began, a child came running in shouting "The Queen! The Queen! King Kaius we have found the Queen!” The boy was accompanied by two civilians carrying a carpet who lay it down by Kaius and opened it, revealing the bloodied, scarred and bruised body of his mother. He nearly vomited. He could barely look at her. One glance was all he needed before he ordered her to lay next to his father and the cremation began. He could almost hear their voices as they lay in the fire. It messed with his mind. But he dared not leave.
Long after everything was done, Kaius returned to the palace and simply sat on the throne. He approached by his friend Tyr who simply walked up and knelt. Kaius sighed.
"I know this isn’t the best time to say this but... the city needs you, Kaius."
"I know,” he said grimly. He had so much circling in his head that he didn’t know what else to say. He was surprised that he was able to get that out.
“This province is a shit show.”
“No argument there.” Tyr mumbled.
“We struggle to protect our own kind. People grow sick, others are killed... this city is on the verge of collapsing onto itself.”
“So what are we gonna do?”
“Well what would you do?”
“I’m not the King, Kaius.”
“No but you are the King’s best friend and I value your opinion.” Tyr smiled slightly and thought for a bit.
“I don’t know what you could do Kaius. I would personally talk to the people. Tell them the truth. If they stay, they stay. If they don’t, maybe the city truly is a lost cause.” Kaius sighed and thought for a bit. A long bit.
“Gather the citizens. I have a speech to give.” Tyr nodded and walked out of the palace to gather as many of the people he possibly could and brought them to Kaius who took off his crown. Kaius didn’t know what to do to help the people of Blackwood. And he told them this. He was willing to sell the land off. And he told them this. But lastly he knew that there were some people who could not stay in the city longer. And he offered them the choice to leave. Some took it and left on the spot while other remained. Blackwood wasn’t much but it was their home. They were staying until the absolute end, King or no King. Kaius could only smile. He dismissed them and then called for all the guards.
"I need all of you to defend this city with your life. Tyr and I are leaving for a bit."
“We are?" Tyr asked.
"Yes we are. I need to see someone special who I think can help us."
"We will do all we can. But do return soon my King. I am unsure if the people will like hearing the fact that their King is gone so quickly after getting the crown." said one of the guards.
"I will try and return as fast as I can. But if we are going to make it, we need help. Come on." He said as he began walk with his friend to the southernmost part of the cities boundaries. It wasn’t a place that a lot of Merians went. In fact it wasn’t a place any of the Merians went. Technically speaking, Blackwood once belonged to the Weichan until it was taken during a rather brutal war that ended with the Merian’s taking the city. Stories say that the head God of the Weichan religion cursed the land so that it would forever have difficulty growing any food or supplying any clean water. Merians are stubborn though which is why they still haven’t left.
They came up to a massive cave that seemed almost completely dark and empty. Vines dropped over the entrance and made it even more difficult to ascertain.
“King Kaius!” Cried a woman’s voice from in the cave. She walked out completely clad in a wonderful red gown that when seen right in the light that came from the cave made the clothing see through, revealing her practically naked body to the two men in front of her.
“I was wondering when you would come to my precious hovel. Welcome to Red Witches Hold. Do come in. It’s nice and warm.” She said turning away. Tyr looked at his friend with pursed lips but Kaius simply smiled and walked in.
“Make yourself comfortable however you please. Linen! Fix something up for them please!” She said as her shadow crawled from underneath her and began to fix food. The shadow itself still crawled over the environment like a shadow would. It didn’t really have a touchable body but you could still see various pots and ingredients moved around by this shadow even though it looked like nothing was really touching them. Kaius was impressed while Tyr was disgusted.
“So what brings you here. How are you?” She sat down in a nearby chair and then motioned a chair closer to Kaius who sat down smiling. Tyr refused to sit and simply stood there, arms crossed and looking down on the scarlet sorceress. She said nothing to him and instead kept her attention on Kaius.
“We have an issue in Blackwood.”
“I bet,” she said smiling. Linen had come and provided Kaius with a drink of Mex, a powerful alcohol in Meria that he refused outright.
“Thank you but I don’t drink.”
“It’s common courtesy to accept the beverage provided by houseguests.”
“I’m not a very courteous person these days.” She smiled at him.
“You’re a terrible liar.” He smiled back. “So again I ask why are you here?” Kaius leaned forward.
“I need your help.”
“Ooooh,” She said beginning to laugh.
“To be more specific, I need your magic.”
“And what for pray tell?”
“My city needs supplies. Food, weapons, and clothes but the only way to do it is to take it.” Tyr and Seidr looked shocked while Kaius sat back in his chair. “The other tribes aren’t something to scoff at. Some even banded together and became full fledged cities. We can’t contend with that. However we do have something that they don’t. Magic.” Kaius smiled and Seidr looked at him with a raised brow.
“You... want magic on your side?”
“Kaius-“ Tyr was cut off before he could say anything.
“So I’m willing to make a deal. Work with me and help me conquer the other tribes and I will grant you one request no matter what it is.” Seidr looked shocked. And Tyr was the exact same. He looked about ready to slap the back of Kaius’ head. Feeling the heat of his friends gaze, Kaius stood from his chair and excused himself.
“Think it over and I’ll be back in just a moment.” Kaius and Tyr walked out of the cave and into the surrounding woods, just out of earshot of the scarlet sorceress.
“Are you out of your mind?” Tyr was absolutely livid.
“I feel fine.”
“Making a deal with a mage is damn near suicide Kaius.”
“When was the last time you spoke with a mage?”
“They have oppressed us for years! Magic has been the enemy of our people for generations.”
“And I am going to use the very thing we have despised and ostracized for years to help me gain power and fix my home!” Tyr sighed. “I understand your fear. I’m scared too. But we can’t fight people with in our pathetic state of power. We need to even the playing field and the best way to do it is to cheat the rules a little bit.”
“I’m still not happy with it,” Tyr said as he crossed his arms.
“Good. I need someone I can trust to keep an eye on her. Mages are tricksy. We’ve heard the stories and read the books. We need her on our side. Kaius looked back at the cave and saw Seidr begin to walk out. “No matter the risk.” Tyr grit his teeth looking at the woman but held his tongue and nodded in agreement nonetheless. Seidr invited them back in and her and Kaius discussed specifics.
“I’m willing to help you... but we need to lay down some rules. Just so I have an idea as to what you need from me and what I can do.”
“I am the King of Blackwood. That means you follow what I say without question. If I ask you to do something, you do it. If Tyr asks you to do something, you do it.” Seidr looked at Tyr who angrily tutted air out of his nose.
“If he asks me to do something stupid, I’m not doing it,” she said simply.
“If you have a problem with his commands, talk to me and I’ll bring forth a compromise.” She agreed to that. “You are to teach magic to people you think would benefit from it and people I choose. Which includes myself.” Tyr glanced at his friend but kept his mouth shut. Seidr smiled.
“Ooooh. Interested in Magic are we? Ha ha ha ha! Alright. I can teach you a few spells. Not gonna be easy though.”
“I don’t care.”
“You wanna learn some spells too Tyr?”
“As if,” he scoffed.
“What a shame. You’d make a handsome wizard.” She gave a coy smile and turned her attention back to Kaius. “I want to be treated like a full member of the city. Any discrimination of any kind needs to be dealt with.”
“Please. In our hell hole, they’ll worship you like royalty. We’ve always had an admiration for magic. Well... all minus my Father,” Kaius said softly. Seidr leaned forward.
“How is daddy Kaius by the way? Ain’t heard from him in a while.”
“He’s dead.” Her eyes widened and she leaned back into her chair.
“Oh my god. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Kaius still mourned the loss of his father and remembered when his dad told him to never play with magic. But this was for the good of his home. For his people. Warnings be damned. He needed Seidr.
“Back to the matter at hand. No magical testing on civilians. I don’t know what the hell you mages do but keep the mind controlling spells or other enslavement nonsense out of the city boundaries.”
“Then where am I supposed to find these subjects?”
“Prisoners of war are yours to do as you please.” She smiled at this. “Tyr gets first pick though.” She frowned. “No messing with the dead, it’s against our religion, no diseases, sicknesses or plagues, and if you need ingredients for something, tell one of the guards or servants and they will get it for you.”
“Don’t trust me to find my own ingredients?”
“More like I care too much to lose you.” Seidr smiled.
“Oh Kaius. So kind of you.” she took a sip of her drink and looked over Tyr who refused to meet her eye.
“Do we have a deal?” He asked holding out his hand. She stuck out her tongue and shook his hand.
“I believe we do.” She looked ecstatic to be a part of this little mission Kaius was undergoing.
“Should I come over now or you wanna let your little band of poor people know first?” Kaius smirked at her.
“I would prefer now. The sooner, the better after all.” She stood up and called her shadow back to its place under her feet.
“Well then let’s get to work.” Kaius and Tyr waited outside of the cave while she gathered all of her things, the two of them debating about where she would stay since she was moving into the city. Tyr chastised Kaius for seemingly going about things without thinking but Kaius patted his friends shoulder and simply told him to trust him. Seidr walked out with a small pack filled with everything she would need from her home and was dressed in a much less revealing red robe with a hood covering her head. Her eyes shined a glorious amber and she looked at Kaius with a kind hearted smile on her face.
“Lead the way, my King.”