I figured it best to start with Chapter One.
1. Traitor to the Cause
“Tell me what you’ve done with it, and I will consider sparing your life.”
For him, time ceased to have meaning long ago. How many days had he spent shackled in the king’s dungeon? Could it be weeks? Months even? Long enough that the heavy chains around his ankles sliced into his skin, merging with the muscle underneath and forcing the flesh to heal grotesquely around them. How often was he dragged from his cell and beaten? How many times had he teetered through a wobbly haze, barely conscious on the razor-thin line between life and death? Two hundred? Three hundred? Maybe four? His body no longer resembled the one he’d spent a lifetime becoming familiar with. Quite adept in the dealing of punishment, the guard’s fists had changed him into something else. Like a reflection in a broken mirror, he was shattered, distorted, and barely recognizable. Busted numerous times, his jaw dangled from his face, useless. All but a few of his teeth had been removed — some ripped out during hour-long torture sessions, others knocked loose during any one of the regular beatings. His skin, once a healthy dark green, had become a disgusting, blotchy mess of purples, blues, and deep grayish-blacks. Even the most minute of movements on his part brought forth worlds of agony. The gentle breeze from a window nearby instantly reduced him to tears. His limbs had long since ceased functioning, devolving his form a million years and making upright movement impossible. Having suffered through things no creature should ever be forced to feel, he found himself crumpled in a garish heap at the feet of the massive, stone-faced tyrant king of Ocha. A small part of him wondered if he’d made the right choice. This pain could have been avoided. He brought this on himself.
Gently nudging the broken, tangled body of the creature sprawled before him, the massive king sighed deeply. “How sad it is to see you like this, Krystoph. I had such high hopes for you. You were so very talented in the art of killing … so frighteningly, wonderfully talented. There was a time, not too long ago, when my opinion of you approached admiration.”
Shaking his head while flashing a disgusted look at the broken lump, the king turned swiftly, pacing back to his throne before reclining with yet another heavy sigh. “I gave you everything, and what did you offer in return — deceit, lies, and thievery? You’ve shamed your king. You’ve shamed your country and all those calling it home. You’ve shamed yourself.”
His ears smashed and barely of use, the broken lump of flesh that once answered to the name Krystoph was able only to make out half the king’s words, and even they seemed distant and jumbled. Despite this fact, his clouded brain managed to put the pieces together well enough to get a general idea of the point the ruler of Ocha was trying to make. Doing his best to ignore the unbelievable amount of pain shooting through every centimeter of his body, Krystoph lifted his weary, half-conscious face with a shaky defiance to the creature he once admired beyond all others.
While using a hand consisting mostly of broken fingers to hold his jaw in place, he grumbled, “Y-you … ki-killed m-my … my … family.”
Quietly the tyrant King Kragamel chuckled. “You are mistaken old friend. Long ago you gave you life to me, and in return I allowed you the privilege of serving as a general in the greatest army the world has ever known and will ever know. In doing so, your family became my family. You see, unlike what you’ve stolen from me, their lives were mine to do with as I pleased. They were mine to kill.”
In direct response to the words, Kristoph’s distorted excuse for a body lurched forward angrily. His broken legs awkwardly thrust the mass of wrecked bones and torn muscles in the king’s direction. Something more a guttural noise than a fully imagined word rose up from his belly, exploding from his mouth like searing magma. Despite the fact that his fingers had been shattered beyond the point of usefulness, Krystoph reached for the king’s foot, clawing at his thick leather boot. The rabid, snarling growl did little to frighten Kragamel though. His expression remained stoic. Many times in the past Kristoph had proven the most capable, the most willing, and the most vicious soldier his army ever produced. The snarling, sniveling mass of bloody flesh kneeling before him now – this was not Krystoph. Nothing remained of Ochas’s most feared general, and the revolting thing he’d become was of no threat. Placing his foot on top of Krystoph’s head, the king easily shoved the broken lump of flesh away as two beefy guards rushed in, pulling Krystoph further still from Ocha’s benevolent leader. The flow of adrenaline having passed, Krystoph began at last to feel the result of his outburst. His body was in no shape for such an act. Now he found himself struggling not only to reclaim his escaping breath but also to deal with the flashes of deep, searing pain tearing him apart from within.
“I will give you one more chance old friend.” The king offered sternly from atop his throne. “Tell me where you’ve hidden it. End this nonsense. You know I will locate it eventually; you will have suffered for nothing. Why take your misguided hatred for me out on the Ochan race? Should this great nation suffer because of your random loss of common sense? Tell me where it is … tell me where it is and this all comes to an end. Tell me where it is, and I assure you I will make your death quick and painless.”
Though one of his lungs was punctured months ago, Krystoph breathed in deeply, managing to momentarily gain control of the pain pouring over him like molten steel. His brain was on fire, his head on the brink of an explosion. Grimacing through eyes drowning in blood, he attempted for the first time in weeks to pull his twisted, mangled body upright. Seeing this, the two guards hovering nearby immediately moved close and shoved him back to the floor. With a flip of his wrist and a slight gesture of his fingers, King Kragamel ordered them to stand down. Managing successfully to maneuver himself to one knee, Krystoph bit down on his lower lip with the few reaming teeth in his mouth and grunted deeply, eventually hoisting his tattered, starved, frail body upward. Teetering atop wobbly, useless legs, he raised his shaky head, staring defiantly into the eyes of Ocha’s most feared king.
With a voice of whispered rage he choked out only a single word, “No.”
Overcome with the undeniable urge to rip the head from his former general’s shoulders and place it on a pike in the center of the castle courtyard for all to see, the king instead shoved his emotions down, successfully centering his rapidly expanding rage.
Krystoph would have loved nothing more than to see him frazzled, and because of this, frazzled was by no means an option. Calmly looking past Krystoph’s unsteady form, Kragamel called out to the back of the room: “Gragor!”
From the opposite side of the massive throne room, the then newly-appointed, still young, fresh, and anxious to please general of the king’s armies moved across the floor in long, determined strides. Stopping alongside Krystoph, the massive Ochan dropped to a knee, bowing his head in reverence of his king. “Yes sire?”
“We could torture this traitor until the end of our days, and it is unlikely he will ever tell us what we need to know; he has been trained too well. He has outworn his usefulness. I shall waste no more time on him. I want you personally to take him to the fire caves, open his throat, and watch the life bleed from his sad excuse for body. Do not burn his corpse though … let the combustion beetles make a meal of him instead. This fool is undeserving of a proper torching.”
Though barely noticeable to most in the room, Gragor grinned ever so slightly. “Of course sire. Consider it done.”
Still wobbling, his body shaking violently as a jolt of pain traveled up his spine, Krystoph managed to remain standing, his steely gaze never once moving from the king. Even after hearing the words from Kragamel’s mouth, at no point would his expression falter.
The king would have loved nothing more than to see him weakened and because of this weakness was simply not an option.
Gragor locked his muscular arms around Krystoph’s torso, tugging his busted, useless form backward across the cold stone floor. From his throne the tyrant king of Ocha watched intently until his former general was pulled from sight. He allowed himself only a moment to dwell on his choice before moving to the next order of business. The king had ordered many to die during his tenure. Krystoph was no different than any of the others.
Once dead they are gone and once gone they never come back – this was the way of things.