Arc 9: Under the Ice Sun
“Look beyond this hill, Cyd. What do you see?” The voice was deep and sepulchral, a grey resonance that beat upon the chest.
“Ah, Master of Kings, I see a field filled with enemies who dare step their filthy boots upon your land.”
“Then you see correctly my dear magistrate. Garghent has brought their whole panoply of battle. There, the infamous ten Generals,” he pointed a large bony finger, “and there is Klyle, the Lion, standing as a symbol of tireless might and will. Squint harder and see the consternation etched into his face. Look to his pups gathered about yapping fruitlessly. Aye, look at them all, how they fear me!” His horse reared from the excitement, a mighty destrier thirty hands tall, adorned in royal battle armor. The eyes of the horse said hate and its muscles were defined even under the ancient battle garb.
“Oh mighty Eberon, Lord of the Steed, how I missed you these twelve long years!” Cyd, the magistrate, felt a tear form in his eye for his beloved king.
“I have returned, Cyd, shed no tears for the living king.”
“They are of joy. But tell me truthfully, how is your majesty’s health?”
“I am pale and weak. My flesh is thin and the cold easily pierces my bones, yet each day I grow stronger and my color will return. You did well in preserving my body. And this horse, son of Ulendil, is greater than his forebear.” Eberon ran his hands along the destrier’s neck, feeling strength and power. The horse let out a satisfied bray.
Cyd clasped his hands behind his back. “The horse breeder surpassed himself. He made the daring trip all the way to the Brother continent and back to select a worthy mare for Ulendil, the King’s horse. Before the birth of our prince here, Ulendil passed away. I suspect his spirit wished to be reborn with his son, to ride again with you in glory.”
“He is pale, like me. I sense a bond stronger than even Ulendil’s.” Eberon said with awe.
“Every day we took him to see your coffin, told him you were his rider, his kinsmen. The two of you are as one, greater than the centaur!”
The destrier was kicking out his legs and shaking his head.
Eberon whispered in his ear “Be still, the time is nigh when we can ride.”
“A name, your majesty. He is without a name! We saved such a sacred rite for you.” The magistrate’s slicked back hair was ruffled by the winter breeze. He flattened it with a soft pat.
“What name do you desire, mighty one?” Eberon spoke softly to the horse. It reared once more, its hooves kicking at the sky. “Orobion, that is your name, for we are one and the same.”
Eberon turned to the magistrate. “Cyd.”
“Yes, Eberon, your majesty?”
“I never thanked you for resurging me. I knew I could trust you to figure out the riddle of kings. Though, I dared not tell you the answer myself.”
Cyd bowed. “You honor me with your words. I live to serve the king of Bast. The answer to the riddle is safe with me, even under duress of torture.”
“So long as the crown is atop my head, I am undying. For a thousand years the kings of Bast have retained the tradition of placing their Aspects into their most valuable artifact and these artifacts are passed down through each succession of king. We alone know the secrets of this transmutation and every king is versed in the history and lives of those who came before. Upon my back is the sword of Fherril, the first king of Bast, whose edge never dulls. Around my neck is the amulet of the second king of Bast, it brings clarity of thought. The third king of Bast passed down his beard beads, imbued with his Aspect of strength. The fourth king’s artifact is the armor Oborion now wears, horse armor that prevents fear and fatigue. The fifth king handed down his own body armor and no arrow or bullet may harm the wearer. The sixth king of Bast presented his ring. He was a wise king who could read the hearts of men. He was a Sage that saw the weaknesses in those who feared him. It was this very ring that gave me the insight into Klyle’s weakness.”
“Then truly he fears you, my glorious lord!”
“Indeed he does! The seventh king gave his earrings, filled with the enchantment of fire so that any weapon I use can be set ablaze. The artifact of the eighth king is a jewel which I had forged into my crown. The emerald brings protection from attacks on the mind and sees through illusions. The ninth king’s artifact is an arm ring reducing the need for food or water. The tenth king, my grandfather, personally handed me his artifact when I was a boy as he lay on his deathbed. A small key that was surgically added into my ribcage. His Aspect, his power, joined together every artifact of the kings of Bast to awaken my own Aspect, the Master of Kings. I put my Aspect into the crown I wear, the combined legacy of the eleven kings of Bast into one, and I, the final king of Bast. Immortal, my reign will be eternal.”
“And what of your father, the eleventh king of Bast?” asked the magistrate.
“He was weak. He was lined up to be the last king but failed to awaken his power. Bast was nearly ruined by his incompetence.” Eberon scoffed.
“Fascinating. So that is why there have been so few kings of Bast the last thousand years? I merely believed there were gaps in the histories.”
“Most kings lived nearly a hundred years. I am in my sixtieth year, seventy if you count the decade I was dead.”
“And how was your trip to the void, lord?”
“Emptier than it should have been. I will fill it with the damned.”
“They stand waiting.” Cyd gestured to the encamped army of Garghent making their preparations.
Eberon turned his mighty destrier and made for his own camped army.
Bast had been severely weakened in his absence and especially from the failed Coalition of the Sister and Siege of Garghent. His army was small, five million in professional soldiers.
They lined the trenches far outside the gates of Bast.
Eberon saw his men and knew they looked up to his splendid horse and his grand built frame in his heavy fur lined coat.
They were loyal to the point of zealotry, men who would die for him knowing they fought for their king’s cause.
They showed no signs of fear, even to the overwhelming force of Garghent that outnumbered Bast three to one.
“Cyd, you have gathered some able bodied Specters I have heard.”
“Yes, majesty, let me call them.” The magistrate moved down the trench and spoke with the trench commander.
Several Specters marched over to Eberon with Cyd lagging behind. He introduced them, “This is Rhenai, the Blinds Aspect, she is native to Bast but spent a few years in Garghent. She was working as a mercenary bodyguard and recently took part in a successful operation that resulted in the capture of a man who discovered and translated new Talis Ranis writings. Needless to say she is privy to some of that information that will be made public due to that operation.”
Eberon greeted. “It is not the first time Garghent seeks to withhold knowledge from the world. Welcome back to Bast.”
Rhenai bowed. “I thought only of this city while at Garghent, it is a filthy and corrupt place.”
The magistrate moved to the next Specter. “Next is Hoiden, she fought on the Coalition’s side during the Siege of Garghent. She is the Tyrion Aspect and proved herself multiple times on the battlefield.”
“Excuse me for not bowing, you understand as royalty we are equals.” Tyrion smiled arrogantly, in her purple robe with her purple scepter.
Eberon’s grey voice struck deep. “I do not know your lineage, child, perhaps you are of a line of great kings such as me, perhaps you have your own Hall of Kings in some damp cave to record your magnificent ancestry, perhaps a whole metropolis bows in your honor at the sight of you. I know the names and history of every royal and powerful family on the planet yet I have not heard of you. In my humility, I acknowledge that there are some that may have escaped the history books. If you are of the noble blood that you claim, then by all means we are equals after all.”
Hoiden turned red. By not bowing she was admitting that she was of such lowborn nobility that there was not the slightest validity to her not bowing but by bowing she ate her words and embarrassed herself.
The magistrate scrambled to recover the slight. “Apologies, your majesty, I have gathered powerful Specters who are prideful in their abilities.”
“It is of no concern, Cyd. Their eyes are wild and untamed. They’ve got fire burning in their bellies!”
Cyd cleared his throat. “Next we have Crnobog. A deadly Specter for hire.”
Crnobog bowed. “I have rivals in Garghent I would like to kill.”
Cyd moved on. “We lost several in the war, but the next five you will remember. They have remained loyal to Bast.
The group of five bowed together, all older veterans. “It is an honor to fight alongside the king once more.” said one grisly Specter.
“We missed you in the siege,” said another.
“It would have been a different outcome for sure!”
Eberon waved his hand. “Nonsense. You would conquer Garghent and share the glory among the other city-states? No, Seqal, Garghent is here in front of us now.”
Eberon trotted his horse over a few steps. The movement got the attention of his soldiers in the trenches. He unsheathed his sword, a broad and lengthy weapon, the crisp sound of steel sliding on steel ringing in the air.
“Fighting soldiers of Bast, where are you?” His voice not needing a speakerphone to project throughout the battleline. Cheers and shouts responded, the soldiers clamoring their excitement and respect.
“Not more than ten kilometers over these hills is an army of fifteen million Garghent scum. But listen closely, you cannot hear them, you do not feel ground trembling beneath their march, you do not hear the battle cries of their men nor the roaring of their engines. They fear us! Garghent is weak without their walls to protect them. They feared us and left their walls because they are threatened by Bast, yet here they are, too afraid to show themselves. What happens if we leave them there? They will construct walls around where they sit!”
Laughter and jeers broke out. Many of the men had fought in the Siege of Garghent and saw how resilient Garghent proved to be and how deadly their Specters were. But they didn’t have their king, Eberon and they weren’t fighting on equal ground, trench to trench. Eberon worked on melting their anxieties down and using that heat to fire them up.
“Garghent seeks to conquer our city and take our homes. They have always been this way. Their greed knows no bounds. Their avarice is endless. Their gluttony, insatiable.” Eberon marched his horse up and down the line. He looked into the eyes of his soldiers as he spoke, each individual growing more confident as they saw their king single them out.
“We thought you had died!” shouted one soldier. Other’s cried in support. He waited for quiet, allowing for the doubts to mount and build.
“Aye. What you heard is true. I did die…”
There were mixed reactions, worry, skepticism, confusion. If he had died once, what was stopping him from dying again and abandoning his people? That’s what his soldiers were thinking.
Eberon changed tones, switching to be more conversational. It caught them off guard. “So imagine the look on Klyle’s face when he saw me alive!”
Eberon shouted to his full range. “I am the king of Bast! Even in death I will return! I am your once and for all king!”
The soldiers were ecstatic, even if they didn’t comprehend how or why, but why should they need to? He was king and therefore was larger than life, a royal bloodline is supposed to be incomprehensible and powerful beyond belief.
They shouted and stomped and clanged and shook the ground. Men who witness the sacred unknowable, a king who overcomes death, make for a dangerous rabble. They’ll throw themselves into the throes and froes of an unquenchable fire, giving life to put it out. Eberon knew this truth of humans. It is not the obstacle which stops man. It is the belief of self that stops man. The obstacle could be pain and death itself, spitting all its cruel curses and macabre visions, yet man with a steady belief of self fears nothing, not even the future. It is the truest way to live in the moment, to fight with the prospect that hell is around the corner and to charge in nonetheless. Glory awaits, better than any dream.
“Sharpen your blades, load your rifles. Do you want to wait in the trenches all day for Garghent? Do you wish to smell your own filth waiting for Garghent? Or will you dine with me on blood and fury!”
A cry was started.
Blood and fury! Blood and fury! Blood and fury!
“Out in the distance, a storm comes. A terrible blizzard, whose icy wind you can already feel. It is a simple ploy. They have an Aspect which makes the cold air. They are going to form a blizzard and use that to begin their assault.”
Murmurs started up. Fighting in such controlled weather conditions against a larger army was not an enjoyable prospect. Many had seen what the icy Specter could do and wished not to see it again.
“Here’s what I think… I think we get up from our ditch and we charge them. We fight on our terms, in our land. They bring with them winter, we bring with us the summer of our barrels, the summer of my sword!” Eberon activated the seventh king’s artifact and lit his sword on fire. Oborion reared and neighed, revealing hooves spewing flames out.
The soldiers of Bast gathered their arms.
“Signal the bellsmen!”
The bellsmen were a group of people standing under a massive iron bell that hung from a moveable cart. They worked in shifts pulling on the heavy rope to ring the bell.
It’s metallic resonance and droning beat called for battle. The soldiers out of earshot of Eberon heard the cries and the bell and knew that the fighting was commencing.
dng-dng… dng-dng… dng-dng…
The bell brought intensity and bloodlust, the army of Bast brought the rest.
Eberon turned to the direction of Garghent. “Ah, now the Garghent vermin ready themselves.”
To his left, Tyrion activated her Aspect and the upper torso and head of a purple giant erupted from the ground. She mounted its back and flipped her scepter once.
Crnobog’s body was elongating, his fingers becoming spindly and nails sharpening. His eyes narrowed into slits and his mouth produced fangs. He let out a series of hissing laughs.
Rhenai tapped the ground with her platform boots, creating a field of alternating black and white stripes in the area in front of her.
Eberon gazed at Garghent’s battle line. He spotted Master Klyle and the Generals at the center, geared for battle.
The soldiers of Bast readied at the crest of the hill. The battle fervor was brimming in them, ready to spill like a torn gullet.
Eberon waited a moment longer, letting Garghent see his army and their eagerness.
dng-dng… dng-dng… dng-dng… The bell tolled.
Eberon charged as the first flurries of snow stuck to the grassy part of the field between where two armies trenched out, ready to do battle.
The Generals of Garghent, Master Klyle, two dozen Specters and fifteen million fighting soldiers prepared to greet the mad king on his steed of hate and sword of flames.