Graghor’s sword was alight with flames as he approached, he went to hit me and I dodged out of the way and smacked my sword on his backside. His body lit with the flames absorbing most of my blow. Graghor’s large stature had filled out considerably with all the training, he packed a mean punch, but was slowed immensely by sheer weight. He went to swing low at my legs and I flipped backwards dodging him yet again. He charged at me outright then, and I easily stepped to the side and got him right behind the knees. He tumbled to the ground cursing loudly. Cecil stepped between us “That’s enough, you need to get cleaned up before you meet with the king,” he was eyeing me and I knew I was thoroughly caked in dirt.
I looked down at my clothes “My robe will cover most of it I think.”
Cecil gave me a look that barred any argument and motioned for me to follow.
I watched as Sare stepped up and offered Graghor a hand, “You’ve got to stop charging her. It just leaves you wide open.” Graghor only grunted in response.
I gave Graghor a big grin as I put my practice sword back and then went to follow Cecil into the castle. “Do you think the King was impressed with what we can do?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out, Greilya.”
“I know, but what do you think he’ll say?”
“If it were King Aernoys I could probably tell you what he would say, but the sons actions are not like the father. I’m sure he sees the worth of a sect of warriors with powers. You all did very well in your demonstration, but none of you have actually fought in a war. Also putting a teenager at the head of such a group, no matter her abilities, hardly seems wise.” Cecil sighed “It’s a gamble Greilya.”
“We fought in the broken steed war and the war at the twin oaks.”
“Raising the dead from the sidelines of a war is much different than fighting with swords in the middle of it.” He stopped at the bath house door, “I’m on your side Greilya, just don’t get your hopes up too high on this one.”
“Right, thanks.” I left Cecil outside and stepped into the bath house full of fawning women. I got clean and, refusing the women’s requests of dresses and hairstyles, I dawned my black robes and followed Cecil in silence to King Aernove’s throne room.
As I always did when I entered this room I was awed by the sheer size of it. I suppose that was the point, to make everyone who enters feel small and insignificant. King Aernove sat upon the throne his father had earned him. He was staring at me like I was a meal, something I still hadn’t gotten use to, the way men looked at me now that I was older. He did share in his father’s dark hair, though little else. He was half the size of King Aernoys and adorned himself with fine silks and a ridiculous amount of jewels. “Greilya, come forward, come forward. Ah Cecil, good, I have news to tell you as well.” he sounded excited to see me and shooed away the many servants showing him various clothes.
I remained expressionless as I stepped forward and took a knee “My lord.”
“Yes, yes fine and good, you may stand.”
I stood back up eyeing him leerly. Recently I had begun to think of all people outside of the brotherhood as little rabbits. Since the death of his father one month ago, I thought of this excitable idiot as being the rabbit king of the scared and scurrying masses. It made it easier to understand their actions.
The King eyed me with a pleased expression on his face “You are here about these ‘nightmares’ you want to lead into battle on my behalf?”
“Yes my lord.”
“My advisors tell me I should be wary of allowing someone so young to lead their own cohort. However, these are the same advisors who think I am not fit to make my own decisions for my kingdom. Even though I’m damn near twenty.” He eyed several men to his side as if daring them to speak. “You trained these men in this new method of destruction and they seem to respect you well enough to listen to you, so I disagree with my advisors on this point.”
“Thank you , my lord.”
“No thanks needed, you are a very powerful soldier Greilya. If there were to be another war I am sure your cohort would be an unstoppable force.” he stopped after that, giving time for his words to sink in. I turned my head to Cecil who looked as confused as I felt and then the King continued “Conquest was my father’s dream. If he were still alive, I doubt he would have stopped until we ruled the whole world. However, I have more lands than I’ve seen with my own eyes and more men and wealth at my disposable then I could use in two lifetimes. What is the point of all this power if all I’m going to do is collect more of what I don’t need.”
The King’s advisors did not mirror Cecil and I’s confusion, they simply looked dismayed and kept their mouths shut as the King proceeded “Conquest will resume in time, of course, but not until I have the means to enjoy what I earn. I refuse to fall prey to the same fate as my father, he was ruler to half the known world! And how did that help him when the years caught up with him and sickness consumed him?”
It seemed to be a genuine question, but I was at an utter loss for words “My lord?”
“Eternal life. This is what I seek, this is what my necromancers will be focusing on from now on.” with those words he let his gaze fall on Cecil.
Cecil stepped forward and took a knee “My Lord, if I may, no one has attained eternal life, no necromancer knows how to grant you this.”
King Aernove’s face took on a much sterner appearance with Cecil’s words “They don’t know how YET. But you raise people from the grave, you bring spirits back to do your bidding. If anyone can find the answers to eternal life, it will be your brotherhood. And you will find it, because it is what your King demands.” The King let his eyes fall back on me “Not to fear, Greilya, I will still have use of your new cohort. I imagine we will need many more corpses for the work your brothers will be undertaking and there is already much unrest in my lands over this point. Your men should be perfect for keeping the fear alive in my towns and keeping anyone from attempting a revolt. While at the same time gathering anything else that your brotherhood may need in completing this task I’ve set upon them.”
Cecil tried to continue, “It is simply impossible…”
King Aernove stood suddenly. “Silence! You sound like my idiotic advisors! Driveling on about what can’t be done! I am King! Son of the Great King of the Dead! I can do anything I please!” The King took a deep breath and seemed to compose himself as he took his seat clenching the arms of his throne with white knuckles “You simply lack motivation.” he said with an icy voice “You will find me the answers to eternal life, as you’re told to, or your whole brotherhood will die with me.” he stared at us with what I’m sure was his most intimidating look, I simply saw a scared little rabbit.
Cecil had been looking on slack jawed, but quickly regained his composure “I will spread the word to my brothers and we will begin work at once to try to gain the power for what you seek.”
“Don’t try, Cecil, do it. Now go, I still have words for Greilya.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Cecil eyed me on his way out and once the large door closed the King spoke in a much calmer tone “My father told me that Cecil was the man to go through when breaching things with my necromancers, but sometimes I wonder…”
He resumed eyeing me like a meal and I had a real urge to slit his throat and watch him bleed out on the steps to his throne. The thought of Cecil was all that stopped me, “There are none among my brothers who holds more of our respect, your father was wise in his council.”
The King nodded “Yes, he was very wise.” He stared off, clearly pondering something, while he twirled one of the many rings on his hand “Neither here nor there, I already have an assignment for your Nightmares. I am getting disturbing reports from the town of Terrgar, perhaps with my father’s death they think it is a good time to fight back for their independence. Nothing has happened, yet, but the unrest is palpable. I need you to lead your men and put an end to any ideas of revolt.”
“You’d have my men slaughter some villagers?”
“Just enough to get the point across, is that a problem?”
“My men will be happy to have something to do my lord. I was just making sure there was no misunderstanding.”
The King gave me a huge smile at that “That’s what I like to hear. Commander Edmund is in charge of my men stationed there, take this letter to him.” One of the red robed advisors approached me with a rolled scroll in hand “He will assist you in any way you require.”
I took the scroll and stored it away in my robes “Yes, my Lord”
“You may go, you leave at first light.”
I bowed and made my leave, Cecil was of course awaiting me outside the chamber. He looked weary and older than I had ever seen him. My mind wandered to one day many years ago when Cecil and I had been practicing with the green flames. He had just spoken to the King and did not seem pleased about the conversation. After he had lit another dummy on fire with his hand I asked him “Why don’t you just do that to the King?”
He looked at me as if he had expected the question “Are you asking me why I took the oath, or why I keep it?”
“Both, I suppose.”
“When we were first offered the oath none of us knew each other, nor were we as powerful as we are today. We never could have taken on the King’s armies. It was a way to stay alive. And I keep the oath because this life is much better than the one we lived before. We thrive here, Greilya, whereas alone we are just exiled and hated.”
I stepped in front of my mentor and waited for his eyes to focus on mine, I wanted to ask him how this could possibly be better than being on our own, but looking into his eyes I couldn’t bring myself to ask him. So instead I simply said “Long live the King.”
He gave a small smile at that “Long live the King.” he repeated with a defeated tone. We made our way back to the brotherhood, where Cecil told them of the Mad Rabbit King’s demands.
* * *
The following morning, my men were preparing their horses for the two day journey to Terrgar. We had taken a page out of Iravit’s handbook adorning our black leathers with bones and red paint, a few us even had disturbing masks. There were ten of us in total Sare, Bael, and Graghor among them. I had called us the Nightmares after Cecil had said we would ‘terrorize the dreams of our enemies’.
Sare had taught us all the use of swords, but I had trained all of them to manipulate the green flames. It could be used as a shield as well as a weapon, something none of my predecessors had discovered. They listened to me on how to utilize the green flames, and over time they started listening to me regarding everything else as well. So when I suggested that we approach the King with our specialized cohort the Nightmares, no one even questioned me. I was only seventeen, but if that bothered any of them they never said as much.
Inesa had come out into the yard to see us off. The looks men made at me on occasion were disconcerting, but the looks all men gave Inesa made my blood boil. Every man’s head in the yard seemed to turn as she approached, whistles could be heard from some of the rabbit soldiers. She simply smiled in the direction of the sound, seemingly unphased. My men did not take part in whistling, but I noted many of them stealing glances at her as well. She approached me as I was saddling my horse “You’re off to Terrgar?”
I nodded “King’s orders. There’s some villagers he wants us to quiet, hardly anything dangerous.”
“By quiet you mean kill?”
I looked at her then, she really had grown into a dazzling woman, her black robes only seemed to make her glow brighter by contrast. I knew where this conversation was headed “Only if it comes to that.”
“You could terrify them with a demonstration of your power alone. You don’t need to kill anyone.”
I sighed “What does it matter Inesa? Everybody ends up in the ground eventually.”
Bael chimed in at that “Hey now, not everyone. Didn’t you hear Greilya? King says he’s gonna stay upright till the end of time.” everyone chuckled at that.
Inesa ignored him “It matters because they are people.” she touched my shoulder until I looked back at her “With families and other people who care about them. They’re mad at the King, that doesn’t mean they should be slaughtered for it.”
As always, we disagreed. I sighed and kept on working.
“Please, Greilya.” her eyes looked at me imploringly.
“I’ll try not to kill them.”
Several of the men chuckled again as she gave me a hug “That’ll have to do.”
I looked down at her as she had her arms around me “Aren’t you going to tell me to be careful or something?”
She stood back from me and gave me a quizzical look “Careful? I don’t need to worry after you Greilya, it’s the rest of the world I fear for.”
“Aw thanks, can I get back to saddling my horse now?”
“Yes of course, I’ll see you when you get back.”
She headed back to the castle and Bael leaned over to me “Are we really not going to be killing anyone?”
I gave him a smirk “Don’t worry Bael, If I know angry villagers, you’ll have your fill of blood before the week’s out.”
* * *
It was a particularly humid morning when we arrived at the gate of Terrgar and were greeted by several armed soldiers. “You the Nightmares the King spoke of?”
I held out the scroll with the King’s seal “We are, I need to speak with Commander Edmund.”
The soldier inspected the seal and then eyed all of my companions “Well you folks certainly look the part.” He signaled for the gate to be opened “Follow me.” We did as he instructed through the packed streets bordered on either side by wood houses and market stalls. The townspeople eyed us as we passed with obvious contempt, and I eyed all of them in the same manner. The whole town looked like it was covered in a layer of grime, possibly because the streets were dirt, instead of cobbles like in Acrosia.
The soldier led us to a stable for our horses, most of my men stayed to see to them while Sare, Bael, and I followed the soldier to the commander’s office.
Commander Edmund looked to be well into his forties and wore a large mustache along with the standard uniform. The large symbol on his white cape marked his station. The soldier who led us saluted him as we entered. I simply dropped the scroll on his desk. Unlike his soldiers the commander did not seem taken aback by our appearance. The soldier introduced me ” Sir, this is Greilya of the Nightmares sent by King Aernove.”
“Yes Namus, thank you, you can go.” The soldier departed and Commander Edmund unraveled the parchment. After reading it he finally addressed us “I don’t know how warranted all this is. Nothing big has happened here, It’s really just some town criers riling people up a bit, we’ve been able to disperse them easily enough so far.”
The office was extremely small and we were nearly right up against the front of the commander’s desk. Accommodations weren’t always ideal when you used the buildings that were available after conquering a place like they clearly had in Terrgar. I leaned against the back wall as I spoke “Crier’s often have more power than they initially appear to. I think the King just wants us to ensure nothing big does happen.”
The Commander seemed hesitant “Right, well you’re welcome to see for yourselves and do as you see fit. You’ll have my men’s full cooperation.”
“Great, do you have a soldier who can escort us around, maybe point out some of the troublemakers?”
“Of course I’ll send some soldiers to the stables for you.”
“Alright we’ll meet them down there.” I opened the office door about to leave when I caught Sare giving me a very pointed look. I turned slightly “Thank you, Commander.”
The Commander nodded “Of course.”
Outside the stables we met back up with the rest of the men and I explained the situation. “Right now we’re just gathering information” I told them. Everyone nodded their understanding and we followed our escorts back out into the market.
It turned out that the escorts were entirely unnecessary, as we found a crier out on a crate spewing his hatred for necromancers that very morning. There was already a large group of villagers around him clinging and agreeing with every word he spat. The two soldiers eyed the situation on the street and turned back to me “You might want to get back and let us break this up, god knows what they will do if you folks get in the middle of that.”
I looked at the old man ranting on and on, a rabid bunny “No.” I said.
The soldier’s face skewed up in confusion “No?”
I tore my eyes away to look at him for only a moment “No, do nothing. I think we’ll stay and listen.” I held up four fingers and pointed them to the left, four of the nightmares immediately headed in that direction to get on the other side of the small mob.
I signaled for the rest of my men to stay put as I approached the crier. The old man saw me and took the bait, as I knew he would. “And there they are, yet again, to steal away our dead! To use them in their foul craft, their ungodly arts! Our dead will never rest as long as these devils are allowed to be at large! The King is mad to keep them in his company! We must cleanse our lands of these demons! We must burn them to purify our realm of their wickedness! We have to think of our children, do we want them growing up in a land where this evil is tolerated!”
In a moment of inspiration I grabbed my own cart from one of the stalls and set up right across from the crier. I stepped up and he hesitated as the crowd’s eyes were on me “People of Terrgar, this is just a simple misunderstanding! You are the King’s people, and as such you are allowed to live with little direction or manipulation, so long as you pay your taxes and supply us with some of your men and some of your dead. All of you seem to think this is as bad as it gets. I assure you, that is just a simple misunderstanding.” I gave the crier a large smile as I raised up my arms feeling the cold deep within myself.
“If you listen to this shriveled old man though, you will no longer be in the King’s favor.” Screams could be heard in the distance as I continued “and if you’re not in the King’s favor that means all the witches and demons you so fear can do whatever they want with you. It means people like me can do whatever we want with you.”
The screams were definitely closer now and everyone in the crowd was murmuring to each other, looking terrified. “He is right about one thing though, you should think of your children. Though you don’t have to concern yourself with your living children, concern yourself with your dead children. All the ones the King has made us leave untouched in their graves.” As I spoke it became clear what all the screaming had been about as thirty little undead children turned the corner onto the street and started heading for the mob “Think about what I could make your children do to you.”
The crowd was in true hysterics now, some clearly recognized some of the children and simply dropped to their knees bawling. The old man started to run, but I leapt off my box and pushed him against the far building, successfully pinning him. Between the undead and the Nightmares the people couldn’t get very far. People eventually just froze in place, petrified.
I had the old man by the throat, he was squirming and clawing at me trying everything in his power to get away. How did something so pathetic think to fight us? I thought of Inesa, and I wondered how she could feel anything for these people, these rabbits. I turned to the crowd of horrified faces “You call us evil? Monsters?! It’s funny, because that’s what my kind say about all of you.”
The crowd was silent except for the sounds of crying. One of the villagers stepped up to the front of the crowd and spat on me “You’re kind shouldn’t even exist!”
“Maybe so.” I threw the old man into the crowd and he landed hard on his backside. In one quick motion my sword was out of my sheath and plunging into the man’s gut. Many of the villagers screamed in anger then and swarmed me, I immediatley a lit with flames and all of them grabbing me tore away in pain as the fires scorched their flesh. I could see the nightmares on the border of the crowd awaiting my orders, I gave a signal for them to stand their ground. The flames were growing ever higher around me like someone had added a log to the fire “Or maybe we should just stop allowing your kind to exist.”
The explosion was nothing as massive as the first time it had happened to me, this was a controlled burst, though to the villagers burning all around me I’m sure it was nothing short of catastrophic. I signaled to the nightmares and they proceeded cutting down any villagers on the outliers trying to escape. I found the old man still on the ground, screaming while the flames curled around his body. I knelt down to watch him burn.
My men stepped up to me after everyone had fallen and the street was eerily quiet. I was still kneeling by what remained of the old man. Graghor looked down in disgust and spat on his smoldering ashes.
Bael was wearing a huge smile “I think I’m gonna like this job.”
Sare was eyeing the ashes next to me, his sword was still in his hand dripping with blood. His face wore an expression I couldn’t quite read. “What is it Sare?”
“They were against the King, but was that necessary, the bit with the children?”
I realized I may have overstepped some line, Inesa said I had a habit of doing this. “Necessary, no, probably not, they just…upset me.”
Sare looked at me with a knowing expression and wrapped one of his arms around me as I stood up “Well, at least we’re living up to our name.”
We walked back to our escorts who looked mortified. Sare addressed them with his arm still around my shoulder “Well I guess that takes care of that. We’ll be heading back to the castle now, you two have yourselves a swell day.”