Reverie's End: Blades of Malice
Day: 9/16/991; Time: 10th hour
Two months had passed since Dart's army lost the battle at Balassar. However, Admiral Wallace's victory was short-lived; he had yet to see the extent of his enemy's malice. Dart had plenty of time to replenish his troops and attack Balassar again. The admiral did not have the element of surprise this time around, and the city had yet to recover from the previous mayhem.
For the past 20 days, Dart's troops engaged in guerilla warfare, and slowly wore out the city's army. No supplies could pass through the Blades' tight defenses; Balmung burned all of the wagons. It was a siege that quickly drained the morale of the city. It was only a matter of time before a mutiny began; the people had grown desperate.
Admiral Wallace was forced to make a difficult decision: he abdicated the throne. He fled, along with some of his men, to the safety of Northgate during the night. Wallace did not wish to see the people of his country starve to death because of his pride.
The Blades of Malice awoke in the morning to see a flag of surrender hanging atop the castle's tower; Balassar was theirs. Dart and his men went through the front gates with limited resistance. The people of the city bowed as the red-cloaks marched through the city, but their eyes showed a spirit of defiance. Balassarians did not take kindly to foreign usurpers.
The city was heavily damaged; Shima now had two "scorched" cities. But the castle was still intact; Dart would have a throne upon which to sit on. He and Sieg ascended the stairs, and made their way to the room where King Shima had been slain. The blood stains had long been cleaned, but the room still had an ominous air about it. Such a room was fitting for a Commander of the Blades.
Dart walked over to the iron throne in front of him. It had a simple design, quite unlike the type of throne that most kings sat upon. Nothing was made of gold and it had very little ornamentation. The "throne" was only a cold chair made of iron and nothing else. Admiral Wallace had it put in to replace the extravagant one that King Shima used. Dart walked over to the throne and ran his fingers over it. He smiled; Dart's predecessor shared much in common with him. They believed in structure, utility, and progress; waste and frivolity were not welcome. It was an iron throne for an iron-hearted ruler; it symbolized the beliefs of Shima's previous rulers.
Commander Dart sat on the throne; he was now the "Iron King". He did not waste time in asserting his rule. His first action was to call a council meeting and discuss his vision for Balassar and the rest of Shima.
There were nine present at the meeting: Dart, Sieg, four high-ranking red-cloaks, and the three advisors that served the previous king. Dart started the meeting by saying, "We must quell all opposition to our rule immediately. Execute anyone that is a potential threat to the new order. I hope there is no opposition to this course of action?" He looked over at the perspiring advisors on the other side of the room.
"You three can keep your heads for now… as long as you are useful. I have no need for useless things. Prove to me that you deserve to live or I will personally remove your heads," said Dart sternly. His tone of voice did not even hint at sarcasm. The old men slowly nodded their heads and remained silent.
Dart's next step was to address the people publicly. He walked outside and stood on the castle's 5th floor balcony. Below him was a large crowd of people, many dressed in rags and malnourished. The food shortage had taken its toll on the people. They were all looking up at the white-haired Dart, waiting to hear what he had to say. They had grown accustomed to tyrants and did not expect anything pleasant.
He looked down at them with his amber eyes and smiled. "People of Balassar, you have been freed from your slavery! Your former masters can torment you no more," declared Dart, as he raised up both of his arms. His voice projected well and many could hear from afar.
"Look at yourselves! Look at what they have done to you… they have clothed you with rags and have robbed you of your food! Those days are over!" said Dart passionately. Then, he announced, "We, the Blades of Malice, have carved out the corruption in these lands! We bring you a new order!"
The mass below him remained silent; they had not heard rhetoric such as this before. They did not know how to respond properly.
Dart continued speaking, "But these lands cannot heal from their scars, and your wounds will always remain as long as there is still evil to be purged. The Blades must root out the corruption… only then can you live in prosperity. I promise you, noble Balassarians, that you will wear these rags no more! You shall hunger no longer and be rewarded for your labor! The nobility will oppress you no more!"
The new king had managed to excite the crowd; many were now cheering. Some shed tears of joy; Dart had brought them hope that they had never seen before. However, some remained skeptical of the new ruler; they were wise enough to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Dart's rule ushered in a new era. He was successful in swaying the hearts of the people and appeared as a savior to them. The banners that hung behind him were those of the Blades of Malice; the Iron Hammer and the Bear's Claw were no more.
During this same time frame, Lita was back at her home in the Scorched Castle, with her family. She was getting ready for another mission and was spending her last night at home; it would be a while before she could return to Charles and Andar.
"You just returned… why must you leave so soon?" asked Charles.
"Work… there are places to sneak into and kings to kill. It's too early to rest," replied Lita.
"King Shima is dead and the Blades are in power. Is that not enough?" asked Charles.
"It doesn't matter who rules this country; I won't be at peace until the dead have been avenged," said Lita.
"Who are these "dead", Lita? Were they your friends?" asked Charles.
Lita never liked talking about her former life before the Valian War. All her husband knew about her was that she had lost everything dear to her during the war. Lita always changed the subject when the topic was brought up by Charles; she wanted to forget her past. But when Shima's thugs attacked Charles, all of her forgotten pain resurfaced. Lita was not about to lose another family to the whims of the elite. She was going to take the fight to them. Lita's old instincts came back; she had become an assassin yet again.
"Fine… I'll tell you. The war claimed the lives of my husband… and my daughter. Justice will never be served, unless I slay those that stole them from me!" declared Lita.
Charles would have fallen over had he not already been sitting. He looked away and said nothing for a while. Finally, he said, "Your family loved you… they would not wish to see you like this. Would they not want you to live a happy life?"
"I cannot rest as long as there is evil sitting upon the throne. We will not be safe… they will come again and take that which is ours. They only know how to plot and steal from others," Lita declared. She then looked at Charles straight in the face, and said, "We already tried to live honestly and work hard, but our overseers were not satisfied with our best efforts... The time for living in harmony is over."
Charles knew that he was powerless to stop her. "At least promise me that you will come back to us alive," he said.
Lita replied, "The rage that burns within me will not allow me to perish so easily." She turned around, and walked outside the door. Lita got on her horse and rode south for 10 days.
By the time she arrived in Balassar, Dart had almost completed the first stage of his purge, which he referred to as "The Decimation". Over two-thirds of all the nobles in Shima had been executed; Many of which were decapitated by Dart's scythe. The young man was not embarrassed to show his cruel nature. Dart had succeeded in instilling fear into the masses.
His method of killing the nobles was as such: Every day he would kill off one out of every ten nobles; no one was safe, not even the children of minor nobility. Anyone who could be accused of profiting off the poor, was a potential target, as were their offspring. This continued for ten full days; few families didn't lose a single soul. Many attempted to flee, but most were captured and killed on sight. Dart even had the eldest of Shima's three advisors executed. But even Dart's brutality had a limit; he was no fool.
Aristocrats and other upper class citizens were educated and possessed skills and talents that few had the opportunity to develop. Dart left enough of them alive so that the city could continue to function. They still served a purpose in Dart's grand plan.
It was now the 10th day of the "Decimation", and Dart had over 30 people lined up on scaffolds, to await their time of death. The method of killing was different for each person and was decided on the spot. Dart's mood and his evaluation of their morality were the key factors in deciding a punishment. A quick death for the "less evil" and a long and drawn-out torture for the "very evil". He claimed that he cast lots to determine the punishment, but this was not always so. Hanging, disembowelment, throat-slitting, decapitation, Balmung's fire breath, drowning in Lake Balassar, poison, and the magic-firing squad, were only some of the possibilities available to those waiting to die.
These executions were done publicly; Dart wanted the people to see the deaths of their oppressors. At first there were cheers from the crowd, but after watching a few butcherings, poisonings, and burnings, even the most ardent anarchists were sick to their stomachs. The screams of the dying were hard to bear, especially when it was young children. Those in the crowd that objected to the executions were quickly taken away for questioning. Many of them were branded "traitors" and imprisoned; a few were even killed.
After 10 days of hearing screams throughout the day, some Balassarians had started to go insane; the cruelty was too much to bear. Some feared that they would be next and fled the city.
Lita arrived on the last day of these killings and came just in time to see a black-haired young man get disemboweled. She watched a few more people die, but remained unfazed. Unlike the average person, Lita was used to such sights. She was the only person that stayed to watch; everyone else knew to avoid the common area in the middle of the city. Those that accidentally passed through pretended that nothing was happening.
The black-haired Lita stayed till the end, and watched 20 people meet their end. Their executioners were Dart, Sieg, and a few red cloaks. The lord of Balassar had completed his work at last and it was now time to begin the second phase of his plan. He ordered that the people be gathered outside the castle on the following day. Dart had an important announcement to make.
This time the crowd seemed even more worn out than the previous time. The activities of the past 10 days created an ominous stench in the air. The people's souls seemed just as dead as the stones in the surrounding buildings. The Balassarians looked up at the castle's top floor in anticipation.
There was also another group down there with the crowd: the nobles. Over 250 of them in chains: men, women, and children, fearing what destiny has in store for them. They were guarded by many red cloaks ready to discipline the unruly.
Dart raised his fist into the air, and began to speak, "People of Balassar! The Purge is now complete! The healing process can begin, but it seems that some of you are not satisfied with my methods."
Many in the crowd felt a chill down their spine; it was as if he was reading their minds and staring into their souls.
"Fear not, noble Balassarians. There was a reason for this purging; there is a reason for everything. I have showed the nobles a taste of chaos. The feeling of not knowing when, where, why, and how you will die is not a pleasant one. Death does not discriminate; I only drew the lots and administered the punishment. Their lives and deaths were all determined by chance. The decision was not mine to make," said Dart in a calm voice.
He continued to speak in his loud orator's voice, "Just as the Light of Ethos brings both bad and good, my scythe administers judgment in the same way. I know what it's like to be the one chosen for the reaping, as did many of my friends that died of starvation during the Valian War. We were selected to be famished orphans, yet others were selected to be the children of kings. Is this fair? Of course not. But we have no say in these games of chance; we have little control. The "Decimation" was a reminder to those that are privileged that they could have just as easily been an orphan of war. Let them never forget, and let them pass this story on to their children for generations to come."
Then, he looked down at the shackled nobles. They were dressed in the same clothes as the commoners, and many were too scared to make eye contact with him. At present, they were indistinguishable from the people that they used to rule over. Dart had humbled them.
Dart's speech was not yet over; he had plenty more to say, "Some of these elite men and women were evil and others were not; death does not discriminate. These children are innocent, but so were many of my friends. Some of you will grow up hating me and will one day try to take my life. Go ahead and try; I will not fight against Destiny. It is a miracle that I am still alive. This outcome has led to your misery. Had I died as a child, your parents would still be alive. Chaos continues to thrive, unbridled and untamed."
He then looked over at the commoners, and spoke passionately, "The New Order has begun. It is time for us to fight against the gods of chance! I hereby strip the nobility of all of their titles and lands. All house names and sigils are abolished and shall never be seen again. There will be no more class distinctions from now on. The nobles' wealth will be redistributed according to everyone's needs. Prosperity can be attained by all!"
Suddenly, he grew silent. "But this is not enough. We can give you their wealth, but that would not fix the fundamental problem. Our country would only prosper for a short time and then chaos would reign once more. These aristocrats have something that you do not: they have knowledge," he said softly, as he pointed to the nobles cowering in fear.
"They have kept you in the dark, people of Balassar! Many of you cannot even read! Yet, some of them can speak multiple languages. They wanted you to stay ignorant so that you could not surpass them or question their authority! They like their sheep to be dumb! I hate to admit this… but I need their assistance in running this country and you need them to teach you their skills and trades," said Dart.
He looked down at the nobles again, and said sternly, "You will repay your debts to the people of Balassar by bestowing your knowledge unto them. Prove to us that you are worth keeping alive! You stole time from these people and lived off their hard work. It is your turn to repay them with your time." The former aristocrats could only hesitantly nod in agreement when he glared at them.
Dart looked down at the main crowd of people, and declared, "Rejoice Balassarians! These stone buildings will not always look so bleak. Prosperity lies in our future!" Dart paused, and then continued to speak calmly, "Do not fear me, people. I am no tyrant and I am no king. I am only a guide and I will lead us towards true peace and happiness. In time, you will choose your own officials and they will guide you. The Blades of Malices' role will then be over and we can continue our quest to liberate the rest of Ethos!"
His long speech was now over and the people had yet to process everything that was said. They could only stare up at the man towering over them. Dart was a thin man and below average in stature, yet the shadow he cast was large indeed. The people of Balassar could not decide whether he was a lunatic or a savior. He was charismatic and spoke like none ever before him. Nobody had ever tried to destroy a system that's lasted several centuries. They did not know whether to be excited or scared. Some began to clap and a few even cheered. Most were still wary of their new leader, but Dart managed to gain some loyal followers. News of his message traveled quickly and it was only a matter of time before other kingdoms learned of Balassar's new ruler.
Lita was in the crowd that day. She did not trust Dart, because Lita had a policy of not trusting anyone. But there was a small part of her that wished for long-lasting prosperity and peace. However, she knew that life was not so simple, and that joy could turn to mourning in the blink of an eye.
Dart reconvened with his council a few hours later. The council consisted of Dart, Sieg, four Blade-level red cloaks, and only two of Shima VI's former advisors. The third was a victim of the "Decimation". But there were also two guests present: Lita and Lanis. The former was there to receive her assignment and the latter was just there to kill time.
"I'd say your speech was quite a success," said Lanis with a grin on his face. The silver-haired young man with brown eyes continued to sit in his wooden chair, with his legs on the table.
"You are not part of the council, Lanis," said Sieg sternly. He and Lanis were often at odds with each other. Sieg had grown even more aloof after Era's passing; he had lost all tolerance for foolish behavior and insubordination.
"Let it be, Sieg. Some of what we have to say concerns him as well," said Dart, calmly as usual. He had become even more diplomatic than usual; his new position caused a change within him. Dart was basking in his newfound authority and was usually in a good mood. Most of his enemies were now dead and those that remained were terrified of him.
"It will take some time for Balassar to get rebuilt. The new system will not be implemented over night and there will be many opposed to it. Perhaps, I should concern myself with the matters of this city first, but I cannot help but desire an expansion of our domains. It may sound hasty, but we should consider it," said Dart.
"I think you did a good job of quelling any opposition. Giving free money to all of the impoverished of Balassar is bound to get you a cult following," replied Lanis.
"Free money is not the end goal; we desire that they may have the ability to earn it for themselves in the future," said Sieg.
"Yes. We need the people to be able to run the kingdom without our intervention. But currently we have potential enemies on all sides. It is only a matter of time before Admiral Wallace comes with reinforcements from Northgate. I don't believe he has given up on reclaiming Balassar. And there is always the potential of West Valis attacking; King Dallos, "The Greybeard", is not someone we want as an enemy," said Dart in a serious voice. Then, he paused and gathered his thoughts before speaking, "We have attacked Balassar with all of our men; there will be no more reinforcements. The people of Balassar must side with us before we get attacked. We will not be able to fend off any serious attacks by ourselves."
Dart looked over at the two advisors, and said, "I trust that you will keep all of this a secret. You know what would happen if you were to sabotage us. I need your help in persuading the people; do not fail me."
They nervously nodded their heads. The advisors came to the meetings, but Dart rarely asked for their opinions or cared what they had to say. He only addressed them when he had a job for them.
Sieg spoke up, "I received a letter by carrier hawk from one of our Blades; her name is Naki and she was Commander Jill's 2nd in command. Perhaps it would be a good idea to discuss the letter's content right now."
Dart's curiosity was piqued. He pointed his finger at the two advisors on the other side of the room, and said, "You two can leave now. I've already let you hear more than was necessary. Do your jobs well or suffer the consequences."
The two old men hurried out of the room and almost stumbled on their way out.
"What about her? She's an outsider." asked one of the red cloaked men sitting at the table.
Dart replied, "Lita has been of great service to us in the past and she is too honorable to snitch. She may stay; there might be work for her to do." Then, he directed a question at Sieg, "If I heard you correctly Naki "was" Jill's underling. Did something happen to either of them?"
Sieg cleared his throat, and began to speak in a hesitant tone of voice,
"Unfortunately, Commander Jill is no more. Her forces captured the Golden City, but they were overthrown in less than a month. Naki personally bore witness to Jill's last moments. She was pummeled to death by a giant man that could shoot electricity from his body. Naki claims that this man is not human, but some kind of "Guardian of Ethos". The man took the Topaz and is determined to find the rest of the stones; he says that their powers are shortening Ethos' lifespan."
There was a long-lasting silence in the room. The listeners did not know whether to be shocked at Jill's demise or at the news of this "Guardian of Ethos". There was too much to process at once.
"That foolish woman! Jill was always an arrogant one; chances are she underestimated her enemy. She even had the Topaz at her disposal and she wasted it! Her recklessness has cost us East Valis! If I had a stone like she did, we would have captured Balassar much sooner," said Dart in an angry voice.
"But we don't have it. The Sapphire is probably somewhere at the bottom of the Great Sea of Ethos. At least that's what those ancient texts say," Lanis said mockingly.
Sieg gave him a dirty look, and said, "Stay silent, you impudent fool. This is a serious matter." Lanis only laughed back in Sieg's face.
Finally, Lita spoke up, "Did you say that Jill captured the Golden City and then lost it? Does this mean that King Theodore is dead?"
Sieg replied, "Yes, in a previous letter from Naki that was written one month ago, she mentioned that Jill cut off the king's head and claimed the throne for herself."
Lita slammed her fist upon the iron table, almost bruising her right hand in the process. She smiled and laughed.
Everyone in the room was perturbed at her behavior. She was far more passionate than usual. "Are you okay?" asked a young and golden-haired female red cloak.
"I do not know whether to cry, get angry, or laugh with joy. King Theodore's head was mine! I should have been the one to slay him," said Lita.
Dart coughed, and said, "Let's get back to the topic at hand. We need to assess the situation and decide where to go from here. Are our men imprisoned, Sieg? And what of Ryu's whereabouts? Has Naki reclaimed the bracelet."
Sieg continued to read the long letter that Naki sent; she was always very thorough in her descriptions. "The men have been imprisoned, and some have committed suicide rather than leak information about the Blades. A few have managed to escape and are headed south to Fire Keep; Naki is among them. As for Ryu's location, I am afraid that he has been freed; the "Guardian of Ethos" broke the bracelet after "having a conversation" with the serpent. Ryu is now on his way home… to Lake Balassar," said Sieg, summarizing what he had just read.
Several people gasped all at once; they understood the implications very well. The magical beasts only obeyed them because of Dios' bracelets. Without them, the powerful beings could do whatever they wanted to, and that included getting their revenge by attacking their former masters. Ryu's power was now unbridled and greater than before.
Dart took a deep breath, sighed, and then began to speak, "The news just keeps getting better. I never thought we would have a new enemy coming from the east; we must be ready in case he decides to attack. It is impossible to read the mind of a beast, although this "Guardian" seems to have done just that. He is a nuisance! I want him dead, but he is outside of my reach."
"There is some good news, Commander Dart. There is a reason that Naki and her men are going to Fire Keep. The "Guardian" is headed there to inquire about the Ruby; he believes that it resides with the Queen of Gaea. She obtained this knowledge from a friend that sits at the council meetings of Prince Alen," replied Sieg, trying to sound hopeful.
"Finally! Some good news! Maybe we can get the Ruby and use it next year," said Dart.
"But where is Paul? No one has heard from him since the beginning of this year," asked a brown-haired male red cloak.
"Do you know anything, Lanis?" asked the golden-haired female red cloak.
"My brother and I don't talk much. Why would I know where he is? I doubt he's dead; the bastard is too tough to die. Don't forget that he fought in the arenas when he was a child; he killed his first man at five years old. Paul is just doing what he does best: burning things. I'm sure he'll turn up eventually. That guy wouldn't die even if he fell off the edge of the world," said Lanis.
The golden-haired woman giggled, and replied, "You have quite an imagination, Lanis."
"I can only hope that he eventually shows up; the Ruby is useless to us without him. We don't have anyone that can replace him right now," said Dart. Then, he continued, "What about the great battle? How are the preparations coming along for the big day?"
Sieg replied, "Last I heard, Commander Dios, along with Addas, and Nia, were headed towards Gamma. Their forces number at 10,000; they are pooling all of their available resources for the battle. Whether the Blades of Malice live on or vanish will be determined by that fight."
"And all we can do is sit here and watch. Even then, we probably won't know the result for over a week. We are simply too far away," said Dart, putting his hand on his face.
"I am concerned about Nia; we were childhood friends. There are rumors that her powers are not adequate enough to wield the Emerald. The stone's magic might not be at its fullest," said a black-haired female red cloak.
"This does not bode well for the future. We must do our part and defend Balassar," replied Dart.
Lita, who is usually quiet, coughed very loudly, and spoke in an annoyed tone of voice, "I would like to know what my mission is. These discussions are very important, but I'm sure that is not the only reason that you called me here."
Dart chuckled, and replied, "I apologize for my rudeness. I guess it is time that I filled you in on what we are planning to do next. You are to go to Agra; I'm sure that you will be pleased to take on this assignment given your past history with King Dallos. No assassinations this time; we only need intel. I know that you are a professional, but please don't do anything rash that would lead them back to us. Do not try to kill the king; you will get that chance in the future. Anything that can be exploited is to be reported back to us. You will get paid based on the quality of your information."
Lita smiled, and replied, "Well why didn't you just tell me that at the beginning." She was overjoyed; there was only one name left on her list and she would get the chance to cross it off. Of course, she would never tell Dart her true intentions. Lita regained her composure, and replied, "I will be going now. Soon, you will hear good news from me."
She stood up and walked out the door in haste; Lita was about to have a panic attack from a lack of air. This was not something that she wanted the others to see. She raced outside of the building as fast as she could. Lita was glad to finally be outside; she needed air. Even if it was Balassar's filthy air that smelled of sewage, dirt, and blood (courtesy of the "Decimation"). The wind carried scents very far at this time of the year.
It all started 10 years ago in Agra when the earthquake hit; Lita lost everything: her husband, daughter, and the rest of her family. She was buried beneath the rubble and could not get out for four days; unfortunately, she never got over the trauma. By the time she was rescued, the Golden City had already sacked the vulnerable Agra. Lita was never able to find her family; she searched for a long time, but eventually gave up and headed north to Shima. There began her slow descent into a life of crime. Meeting Charles saved her from that life, but there were those that tried to rob her of a happy life a second time. Those men were now dead.
Lita was never able to get revenge on the two kings that started the Valian Civil War and never considered the consequences of their actions. King Dallos' death was now her primary objective.