Chapter Five -- At the Base of the Mountain

            The boy knelt in a pool of blood and viscera that was once his friend, grey velvet eyes distant and frightened, brimming with tears. He looked up at the figure towering above him, his lips quavering. “Mar? General? What did-What have I done?”

            His dark mentor watched him, arms crossed, saying nothing as the boy continued to weep. After a few minutes, he sighed, “Are you finished?”

            “F-finished?”

            “Pitying yourself? It’s pathetic.”

            “But I k-killed Ryan! He was my friend.”

            The general knelt down, though even on his knees, he still dwarfed the boy. Grabbing him by the chin, he forced the child Duncan’s eyes to meet his own.

            “Well then, never forget this lesson. This is who we are. Dreamweavers, sojourner’s of the Dreamscape, ones who walk in the liminal space between wakefulness and sleep, between men and Gods. We are those who take, and take, and take from the minds of others. We observe their dreams, their nightmares and memories. There’s nothing and nowhere Man can hide from us. We observe, and when we find their greatest fears or shames. We manifest them, manipulate them, and therein lies our strength. But you must be deft, child. Or else…”

            Here the General Rabe Mar paused, and looked around at the gross carnage they sat in for effect.

            “Or else all you strived for will be for naught. Now ask yourself, boy, how badly do you want to be king? What are you willing to take? Who are you willing to lose?”

            Even as hot tears stained his cheeks, Duncan could feel a strange, new power brewing in him, matched by his nascent ambition. The youth knew his answer. His family name must be restored. He WOULD be king. No matter what the cost.

 

            The Queen Anna/Saiin languished on the cold, uncomfortable throne, shuddering in the damp room at the heart of Castle Dauphin. Its floor loose cobblestones. Unlit chandeliers, whose ornament had rusted away after centuries of disuse, creaked from the ceilings. Mildewed walls, that stretched into shadows, that smelled of dank and must, surrounded her. She waited. Waited for night to turn into dawn, for the moment when the fruit of Eleazar’s long centuries of carefully laid plans finally rose to the fore. She remembered Dauphin’s gentle caress, as she felt Elly’s, the God of tricks, violent need. Remembered how deeply the ‘true God’, as he liked to call himself, mourned the betrayal of the androgynous creator Giin, and how that sense of betrayal echoed in all his tricks and misdeeds. Her heart raced. Was it fear that spurred it so? Anticipation? Or the realization that birthed slowly blossoming plots of her own…

 

In the fog, settling even thicker than normal on this week of the Festival of Mists, little more than a slow enlightening of the surroundings heralded day’s arrival. The woods grew a little clearer. Its shadows shrank. The silence of night gradually relented to the calls of a coming morn. Birds chirped in the thicket of branches overhead, in response to the ever quieter call of insects, which had ruled the dark. General Rabe Mar, Dauphin’s latest Fist, stood with his small company of dragoons, waiting at the base of the mountain. The forest hemmed around them, yet even so he seemed a giant. The air around him felt compressed, like reality was drawn into his dark presence. He rubbed his bald scalp, lips pursed in an impatient frown on his brown face. There they hid, watching the barren stretch of land that lead to the path up towards destiny, towards the mad king. There they waited, the two score battle worn soldiers, the best and bravest and most loyal of the Fist’s army.

Today was the day. The day this so-called ‘God’ Jethro would finally die. The crux of many decades of work, accruing assets in the background, gathering the silent support of the most powerful voices in the King’s council; and many consults with the God of Tricks in the dark.

“He’s late.” Oran, his sallow faced second in command, muttered.

Rabe closed his eyes, and in that instant, tasted the violence and joy in the mind of his young protégé. He had killed the night before, he had… played with his food. Reveled in the death for hours after. And his grim countenance grew even grimmer.

“I sense he is… delayed, but will be among us shortly.” Oran frowned, clearly not satisfied with the explanation, but nodded and stepped back into the shade. A good man, trustworthy, he had served the general well for many years, survived many bloody battles in the name of a king they now prepared to oppose.

General Mar frowned up into the receding gloom, unable to see to the top of the mountain before them with the obscuring murk, but he knew what awaited them nonetheless. A long climb, the castle and its labyrinthine bowels, and, perched in his throne room like the prize at the center of a maze, or a deathly trap more like, the immortal yet decaying king. He knew, even in his much deteriorated state, the Godking was a powerful foe. That he would need his protégé, the arrogant, entitled, Duncan, youngest brat of the Goodwyn family, at the fore—both for his abilities, which as a Dreamweaver and politician, if not as a warrior, now surpassed even his own, and for the legitimacy his heritage would lend the revolution. He had changed so much from the frightened boy he had first known all those years ago, both for the better and for the worse.

He looked around at the men and women, good soldiers all, that surrounded him. All wearing brave faces. He knew that fear and doubt, well hidden, brewed within them. How could it not? They, and their mothers and fathers for generations and generations, had been taught to revere Jethro, not just Sovereign but as God. Perhaps they learned of the true God, Eleazar, Lord of Deception, in secret. Snatches of truth gathered here and there, but here, at the precipice, with the prospect of overthrowing the deific ruler of their land nigh, doubt emanated from them like beacons of warning.

He sighed, and prepared to encourage the men. Duncan’s presence eluded him, aside from the residual echo of the power he’d used the night prior, of the memories plundered and the life took, but he knew how badly the young man wanted to rule. He knew he would soon arrive, and their mission would start, and so he turned to speak to the small band of warriors, to inspire them for the battle ahead. His voice hale, deep, strumming with violent melody: “I know you are afraid-”

A voice rang out from above, proud and clear, interrupting the general, “To kill a king? Overthrow a God? How could you not fear?”

Duncan descended into their midst, a vicious smile on his face, his cloak smeared with congealed blood. The assorted warriors stood a little taller in his presence, and The Fist, great general though he was, could not help but rue how easily the younger man’s charisma surpassed his own. How, in spite of his flaws, his arrogance, how little he had proven with them in battle and blood, he inspired fiercer devotion just with words. The youngest of House Goodwyn continued:

“However, I do not fear. And here is why: Jethro is just a man! A powerful man? Yes. One who has ruled this nation for centuries? Of course. But a man nonetheless. An old, lonely, grief-stricken man who wields a power that does not belong to him. I have spoken to the true God, Eleazar, the Lord of tricks, and we, we have been chosen! Or fates belong to him. He has named this balance as ours to redress! This kingdom ours to reclaim! Destiny bows to us now.”

And with that, he left the forest behind, marching toward the mountain. Not even affording a backward glance, so sure he was that the General and his men would follow. They had waited and struggled to long to hesitate now. To their credit, Mar was glad to see that even though they clearly wanted to rush after the unproven hero, spurred on by his brave words, the arrogant pup who had lost much and taken much more, they waited for his silent nod to charge after.

Duncan smiled to himself, he could see the day would go well. He had sensed the truth as he approached the forest that surrounded the castle, and now saw that the General, aging as he was, powers fading as they were, could not sense the same: their king, Jethro, ruler of Dauphin, was already dead. Something, or someone else, awaited them atop the mountain. A presence with great power of its own, with motives unknown. He sensed the God of Tricks hand in this, and knew, whatever might come, one obstacle to kingship had already been removed from his path. And as they ascended the mountain, he felt a burgeoning thrill. Every step they took brought him that much closer to the throne…

 

As they approached, Anna rose, she knew that Eleazar had asked her to remain seated. He wanted them to discover her before her husband’s ashes, arrayed before her as she claimed the seat of power. But she sensed the approached young lord, felt his power, how it approached that of the Gods and knew he needed a more dramatic demonstration. With a snap of her finger, the dead king Jethro’s ashes recongealed into the illusion of flesh, and he was resurrected, in image if not in truth. And he followed after her, this façade, with shambling steps as she prepared to leave the castle and great the would-be conquering heroes.

            They must be made to understand. She thought, with a grim smile of her own. Even if the king is dead. A Dauphin still rules this land-

            -A Dauphin will always rule.