Chapter 43: Judgement Day Part 1
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Chapter 43: Judgement Day Part 1

 

“So what are your knights like? If I recall, knights are supposed to be loyal, so I assume this whole coup thing isn’t something you do on an average day?.” I said to Knight Commander Rober as we waited in that large underground room in the Peelers Pit.

“No… they are loyal, but we are loyal to the nation first and the king second. Even the king has sworn an oath to always prioritise the interests of the nation first.” Rober said uncomfortably.

It must be a very strange experience to sit in this seedy part of the city with their future queen and a monster, while eating biscuits and drinking tea. Well I wasn’t eating any, the cookies were a little small…

“Well then I shouldn’t have to worry about me or Cecilia. Seems easy enough to follow.” I said as I lazily shifted my body so that I’m lying down in a more comfortable position.

It’s been a week and the king should be having his speech now, we were just on standby in case the Prince really went through with the whole stabby stabby thing...

It would make our lives easier if the Prince used the king as a training dummy but no one knows if he will be daring enough to do it until it actually happens.

“Easy?” Rober asked as he raised an eyebrow.

“You humans are mostly quite short sighted. Not surprising considering how little time you have in this world. No patience, no diligence, at least for most of you. Cecilia here isn’t but people like her are few and far between. I could throw a stone into a crowd of humans and hit a short sighted fool.” I replied lazily.

“I don’t know how to feel about that statement…” Rober said uncomfortably.

“You’ll get used to it Knight Commander. My friend’s honesty is refreshing if anything. Saves quite a bit of time, no need for any verbal acrobatics.” Cecilia said calmly as she continued to read her book with one hand and drink a cup of tea with the other.

“I hope so, your grace…” Rober said already using the sovereign honorific, definitely a good sign in my opinion.

“I am not queen yet, my good knight commander. Believe me I do not covet the throne, weary is the head that wears the crown. I wear it because I must, not because I can.” Cecilia replied as she looked up from her book to look at Rober who bowed his head at those words.

Seeing this I got an idea, the whole point of this get together was to let these two get comfortable with the whole idea of living with me lurking around. They respected Cecilia but they fear me, so trust will have to won in the middle ground between us…

I thought back to that song Cecilia sang a few days ago…

 

The stars are very beautiful above the palace walls

They shine with equal splendor still above far humbler halls

I watch them from my window, but their bright, entrancing glow

Reminds me of the freedom I gave up so long ago

 

Cecilia looked up from her book as I sang the first few lines and she smiled as she began to sing the rest.

 

The royal circlet of bright gold rests lightly on my brow

I once thought only of the rights this circlet would endow

But once I took the crown to which I had been schooled and bred

I found it heavy on the heart, though light upon the head

 

Although I am the head of state, in truth I am the least

The true Queen knows her people fed, before she sits to feast

The good Queen knows her people safe, before she takes her rest

Thinks twice and thrice and yet again, before she makes request…

 

Cecilia finished and I saw the Knight Commander Rober and the Adventurer Guild’s Leader Volnil relax slightly.

“My friend here likes my singing.” Cecilia said with a small bashful laugh.

“You’re very good, one of the best I’ve heard.” I replied with a smile of my own. 

Honestly, she was one of the best singers I’ve ever heard. To be fair I haven’t heard that many live performances, all the other songs I’ve heard so far were sung around flickering fires in the slums.

A little song sung to stave off the misery of everyone huddling that fading light, trying to fight off the gripping cold of winter. So yeah you could say the people singing, weren’t that motivated to sing…

“So Volnil, how did you become the leader of the Adventurer Guild?” I asked as I looked at the old leader.

“I adventured until I was late in my years and then I retired. The past guild leader thought I was a suitable replacement so he showed me the ropes and I’ve been holding the post ever since.” Volnil replied.

“There’s more to it than that isn’t there?” I asked as Volnil moved uncomfortably in his seat.

“I can tell when people lie, remember?” I added with a small laugh as I tapped my domed head. 

“Well if you don’t want to tell me that’s fine, it’s not my business anyway. But I can sense a little… guilt…” I said as I saw Volnil averted his gaze.

“You want me to help with that?” I asked nonchalantly.

“What?” Volnil asked.

“You see I have this little trick up my sleeve because I’m a hive leader. I can probe willing minds and I’m quite good at dissecting memories. I have to handle thousands of minds after all, so you could say I’m quite experienced at this.

I realised that humans have a lot of false memories, things happened this way but they think it happened that way. They take or give blame that isn’t true, perhaps I can help clear your head.” I offered. 

I remember when I first discovered this power, born of my connection with the Hive and my increased Ether manipulation. Something in my head had clicked when I got the Hive, my mind could now read and navigate the intricate pattern of a sentient mind…

I wanted to try it on someone. Only problem was that the person had to be a willing participant, if I forced my way in I had a feeling I would destroy the mind in the process. My first practice run was with Cecilia who was open to trying my mind reading ability. It was a touching show of trust. So I promised her nothing bad will happen and I will not intrude where I’m not wanted…

 

┍━━━━╝✹╚━━━━┑

 

As I laid my finger on Cecilia’s head I cautiously probed her mind, at first her mind recoiled and I instantly backed off. Then her mind stilled and allowed me entrance. I saw many things, random memories but all of them faded, foggy, distorted. 

I could sense pain, grief, loss…

Where? Here? No… there…

The warmth, a lover's touch, the smell of her hair like the fragrance of the finest flowers.

Was it ok for me to be here?

Yes? But why?

Ah I see, you want understanding, hatred, grief bottled up in a dark corner. 

Slowly eating at the corners of the mind, like parasite burrowing, gnawing, destroying…

Heal?… Maybe… perhaps… possibly…

We will see…

The warmth in the heart like a fire

The happiness that glowed like a sun

Alone no longer…

Then pain, separation, horror…

The warmth of a bed, now a cold cell…

The happiness of love, now the fear of loss

The cold cell, no windows, no light... 

She might die, she might die… no she will die…

A spell to see, a spell to know, the fate of your beloved

You see it, a quiet room, only a pair of guards, your father and your brother

She is bound, hooded, gagged… but silent and still...

Her end comes, she knows it…

No tears, no words, just silence…

Then the floor drops, the crack… 

The twitching of the limbs, the stilling of the heart…

The fleeting touch of a warm embrace, the permanence of cold death...

All your fault, all your fault...

No tears of grief, only rage...

You hate them, you hate yourself, you hate the world…

If they see a monster then a monster you will be

You hate the world, the world that has always hated you

You will end them, you will repay this debt a thousand times over

But for what?

Soon those that wronged you will be dead...

Ah… the world, the way the world is, it’s broken…

The weak bowing to false gods, groveling at their feet...

A monster you will be, a world you will kill and a world will be reborn

All your fault, all your fault, all your fault

You watched her die, the light of your life extinguished

Fiery hate, cold emptiness

All encompassing drive, an empty heart

All around you, wicked eyes and wicked hearts

All their fault, all their fault...

It's all your fault...

It isn’t your fault

We do not choose our birth

We do not choose the hand we are dealt

We just play it to best of our ability

You aren’t alone…

Not anymore...

We will be free…

Alone no longer…

┕━━━━╗✹╔━━━━┙

 

As Cecilia listened to that conversation her mind wandered to the incident with her friend. In truth she didn’t know what she wanted from that event. Perhaps she wanted someone to know, perhaps she just wanted to help. Perhaps she wanted someone to understand what she had gone through, her pain, her guilt. She didn’t know honestly, when their minds met she came to the sudden realisation that human minds were so small and brittle as compared to the likes of the Firstborn.

During that encounter she got a small taste of how her friend's mind worked. It was organised and very efficient, not at all like the mess that was her mind. It was also massive and powerful, she had a feeling he could devour her mind if he wanted to. It was like a dragon sidling up next to her and breathing on her. She could feel the weight of his mind as he probed her memories, but he was surprisingly gentle...

“He did so with me, he may surprise you Volnil.” Cecilia said. If anything this was a good chance to win them some good will. 

Cecilia watched as Volnil stilled for a moment as if lost in thought. 

“Well it’s fine if you don’t want to, just an offer. Think about it.” her friend said with a shrug.

Cecilia watched as Volnil bit his lip before looking at her friend. He nodded slowly, she saw some ill intent in his eyes. Perhaps he thought he could glean something from her dear friend's mind. Well good luck with that, the only thing he will learn is the chasm between them.

“Alright, stay still…” her friend said as she slowly placed a finger on the side of his head.

Cecilia watched as Volnil’s gaze dull and her friend began to speak.

A last mission

One final contract, to end a life of service

It was a final mission in more ways than one

They wanted to start a family

Open a bakery, find a partner

But no, they are gone

Faces fading in the flames

It was all your fault

A wyvern you sought, a dragon you found

The painting is fading blue...

The last prize was never yours, now a dragon faces you...

No chance, you stand no chance

You flee but wings are swifter than feet

Flames searing like fires of hell

Armor fused with flesh...

The wards break and fade...

Potions melted into slag and vapour

You got away with another

The others now but ashes and bone

Only her and she is slipping away

You can see bone, the flesh is gone

A gasp, a rasp, a twitch

All your fault, all your fault

You held her hand as she suffered

Her hand, flesh melted, bone showing

Her eyes wide, throat scorched

No healing left, no potions left, no mercy to give… too weak to give… can’t bear to give...

Her eyes wide in terror, pain, agony…

You held her hand as she died

Hoping she would drag you with her…

You started with six, then five, then three, then two…

And finally… just you…

Contracts go bad, you knew

But it wouldn’t happen to you…

The information was bad, you knew

Peasant accounts, no beastiarian testimony

But it wouldn’t happen to you…

Their faces, fading in the flames…

It was all your fault…

You are alone, alone with your failure

Only this and nothing more…

The payment for your failure?

A promotion...

You don’t deserve it, you don’t deserve it

All your fault…

The guilt was yours, but the punishment theirs

All your fault...

...

It isn’t your fault

Contracts go bad, it happens to all, not just you

They didn’t die for nothing

Lives your report saved

Families you saved from the flames

Three teams of mithril embarked for vengeance

A dragon they sought, a dragon they slayed

The head they showed you, their lives they thanked you for…

Hollow words, you don’t deserve it

...

The blood price had to be paid, you paid for another

One of them a young mage found a partner, started a family, raised children

Two beautiful daughters, won with your sacrifice

Not your sacrifice, you don’t deserve it

How can a failure lead...

How can one who has never failed lead?

Failure teaches the hardest lessons, you know this...

Experience is a ruthless teacher, an expensive teacher...

You teach, you guide, so no one has to make the same mistakes

Lives you have saved, lives you will save

You do not deserve it but you lead because only you can

You lead because you must

The path of the adventurer, built on centuries of sacrifice

You stand before the monsters so their blows may strike you instead of others

Remember the truth of why you started on this path

Wear your scars as badges of honour

Every wound a triumph, every loss a worthy sacrifice

All your fault…

Not your fault…

You did more than could have been asked of anyone

Weaker men would have been broken

Lesser men could not have lived with their failure

But you did, and you did so much more

Not your fault, the blame isn’t all yours

Lives you saved, faces saved from the flames…

 

With that her friend removed his hand and Volnil looked down at his lap. Cecilia saw droplets drip down from his face into his lap. Cecilia stood up and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“You always lead the guild to the best of your ability and you have done admirably. No one can deny that.” Cecilia said gently.

Cecilia watched as Volnil reached a hand up and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment before raising his head.

“I apologise, your grace, that was unbecoming of me.” Volnil said as he cleared his throat.

“My friend isn’t so bad is he?” Cecilia said with a small smile.

“Yes… you are not what I expected…” Volnil said as he looked up at her dear friend.

 

◦◦,`°.✽✦✽.♚.✽✦✽.°`,◦◦

 

I smiled as I looked down at him, he was significantly less stressed now. Who knew I would be such a good therapist, well free good will is still free good will.

Devourer psychiatric clinic, cure all your inner demons today!

Other psychiatrists wish they had my abilities, guaranteed to solve your inner conflict within three sessions. Psychiatrists, I’ll eat your heart out! Hahahaha… ahh… good shit...

“Well I’m no stranger to dealing with you humans. I know what your minds are like, confused, filled with knots, those who can master their own minds are few and far between. Many of you say you can lose control, but if I am to be honest. How can you lose something you never had…” I said as I bent down to look at Volnil.

“Yes… you are right. Our minds are brittle, as much as we like to deny it, it is true. It appears the stories of the ancients are not just… stories.” Vilnol admitted as he took a step back to get a better look at me.

“Immortal, wise and powerful beyond mortal comprehension.” Volnil muttered as he internalised what he had just experienced. Heaven help he who attempts a mind breach on this ancient one…

“Consider this a charity, like I said I don’t enjoy watching you suffer. The unhappier you humans are the greater the tendency for you to start swinging swords and firing spells.

The truth is it’s written all over your face, from your curled lip, to your wrinkled brow. A weary visage from which your passions can be read. The fate that mocks you, the passions that feed you. You look to your betters, eyes green with envy, you see their great works and hear, look upon me and despair. You spend your lives searching for something you don’t even know exists. In the end you search and search but all you see is bare and barren sands stretching to furthest horizons. You think you lost something you never had and you look at the sky to scream and wail for an answer, never bothering to look down to see the answer at your feet...

To these great questions the answer is often very simple… if you are willing to accept them.” I said calmly.

“It is not your fault. You are not powerful enough to take all the blame, don’t get ahead of yourself… Even I cannot save everyone, what chance do you have?” I said as Volnil looked away.

“You play the hand you're dealt, that is all there is to it. Come what may and bear the price or die. That is the way it has always been.” I said as I turned to look at Cecilia. These words were meant for her as much as it was meant for Volnil...

At those words I heard the door open and I saw a messenger standing apprehensively at the door. Cecilia didn’t react to the door, she just looked at me for a moment and closed her eyes, a small smile at her lips. For a moment she looked almost peaceful but when she opened them again I saw the Cecilia I knew, the fires of ambition in her eyes. She turned back and faced the messenger.

“What news do you bring?” Cecilia asked.

 

The King is dead…

 

Song/Poem Attribution

"Cost of the Crown" by Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey & Debra F. Sanders (1995) The Cost of the Crown. On Lovers, Lore & Loss: Songs From the "Heralds of Valdemar" Trilogy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twI3qZ6_8PQ 

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