By Fire And Blade

Galrun wakes with a start. His eyes feel heavy and his muscles stiff but he manages to sit up. It is at this point that he realises he is not clad in his armour. At first he believes he is in the afterlife. As he looks around the small stone room though, he quickly comes to rest his eyes, which ache, on the banner of the One Sun Domain. Galrun rolls his eyes as he flops back onto the soft bed leaving him to stare up at ceiling. As if on cue there is a knock on the door to this basic room, which has only the bed Galrun is laying on as furniture.

Galrun doesn’t answer the knock at the door, not that he needs to as a guard pushes the plain untreated wooden door open into the room and then steps in himself. He is dressed in the armour of Tyran’s personal guard and from the dark mottled stone of the walls around him Galrun can be sure that he is back in the One Sun Domain’s castle.

“You’re awake. Tyran wishes to speak with you.” The guard says without a hint of sympathy or regard for Galrun.

The warrior would like to put his fist through the guards face but knows better and simply begins to stir from the bed. It’s all the answer the guard needs as he retreats from the room, closing the door behind him to give Galrun privacy. The man mountain quickly rises to his full height before checking himself over. To his astonishment he finds that there is not a single wound on him. Though, he does have patches of bruises down either flank and across his shoulders. But those, Galrun knows, can be put down to the weight of his armour being there cause.

“He is a betrayer.” Galrun hears a voice utter in the moments before he spins round searching for the source. But he is alone. There is no doubt about that. If there were a wardrobe he may be able to believe different, but there isn’t and his undercloth and armour are simply stacked in the far corner of the rectangular space.

Galrun would prefer to have a break from the armour but seeing as the undercloth cannot serve as clothes and he will be in the presence of Tyran he accepts that he must adorn it once more.

But as Galrun slips and fastens the pieces of the thick plate into place the unknown voice speaks again saying, “You know the truth. We showed it to you. Freed you.”

Galrun says nothing in response though it seems madness may be setting in. It makes him wonder if this is all a part of some passage to the realm after death and that he had been wrong to assume he is still alive. He doesn’t know. He has never been a religious man. Instead, he’d been trained from a young age to fight and little more.

“You are not a weapon.” The voice then utters again and Galrun snaps his head left sure that is the direction from which the words emanated from. But all he is faced with is the mottled grey wall of the room and nothing else. It is at this point that he lets out a long loud sigh.

Thankfully he is spared any further utterances, and so with his armour adorned he opens the door to this room and steps into the corridor beyond. It too is bland and unimpressive, but it isn’t empty as there are two guards, one on either side of the door waiting for him. The face of the one on his right he recognises as the guard who had relayed the order from Tyran seeking his presence. The guard on the left Galrun doesn’t recognise the face of, not that it matters, as the pair escort him down the corridor with one ahead and one behind. As they advance toward their destination which Galrun can only assume is the ‘throne room’ they drop the faceplates of their helmets.

Before long the trio take a right and then descend steep stone stairs that spiral around four times before being left behind and the line of men stepping out into another corridor. This one they briskly traverse down the length of nearly four dozen steps and then take a second left. Once they have Galrun, who has never seen the part of the castle he’d been in before, recognises his surroundings as the wide entrance space that link the east and west sides of the castle. The entrance hall is eerily quiet and devoid of all others except Galrun and the two guards. But Galrun pays no attention to the decorations of this space as he instead takes notes that the usually wide open doors over three times his own height are closed. That concerns Galrun but for what reason he can’t say as the trio soon take another left so that they are facing the high double doors beyond which Tyran’s ‘throne room’ is located.

One of the guards, Galrun can’t tell which is which now, pounds three times slowly on the solid thick wood of the left door and then waits. The two guards’ dominant hands rest on the swords in their scabbards. Galrun has taken note of this and now feels thankful for the presence of his own sword as it rests in the scabbard hanging from his waist. Though, he keeps his hand free of the pommel as he doesn’t wish to antagonise the guards who are clearly on edge.

Does that mean the Pashtani are approaching? Galrun asks himself but the only answer he gets is, “Seek the truth.”

It’s the voice again, the same voice that had spoken to him when he’d been in the room where he’d awoken. He had hoped that it was a trick of his mind or something to do with how the wind blew through cracks between the stones of the walls, but apparently Galrun had been naïve to hope for such things.

Then the towering wooden doors begin to shift and as they do they creak loud enough that if you didn’t know better you would swear there is a banshee in the castle. There isn’t, at least as far as Galrun knows, that is. Anything could be possible however, as he hasn’t spent much time within these walls for many years.

Still, he steps forward through the now fully open double doors and onto the blue cloth that runs down the centre of the narrow room. There are still personal guards flanked on either side of Galrun. Though, Galrun notes that he is without his twin escort now and could swear there are more guards present than normal. He could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time recently. However, he still isn’t sure how he survived that slaughter with the Pashtani, or how he ended up back here. By all rights he should be dead. But Galrun has decided this is definitely not part of some ceremony that sends him to the realm beyond death. If it were he is sure he wouldn’t be able to smell the decay in the air of this castle or the over fragranced scent of honey and jasmine that is wafting up from the cloth beneath his feet.

Galrun has never been sure why Tyran has always insisted on bathing that the cloth be bathed daily in the concoction, and from what he hadn’t gleaned as a young boy in the castle nor did the servants who performed the task without question. Later Galrun had learned why they obeyed without query as he’d witnessed four servants being thrown from the lowest tower to meet their fates on the courtyard cobbles below. That alone had angered him, but for some reason he’d never voiced his anger to Tyran. All he knows is that it was not out of fear. Instead, he just seemed to forget it.

“Yes, now you see. Keep searching and the truth will bloom unchecked.” The voice, which at first Galrun thinks is Tyran speaking, says boldly.

Galrun even raises his head toward the ruler of the One Sun Domain who is lounging lazily on his ‘throne.’

Upon meeting eyes with the now stationary Galrun, the ruler shifts just enough so his head is turned toward the man. Before Tyran’s face had been almost side on to Galrun, but by the look of displeasure on Tyran’s face it might have been a better view before he shifted to look at the warrior head on. This is mainly because Tyran is ugly. There is no other word for it and that is Galrun judging the middle aged man by his own standards, and Galrun knows he is no beauty himself. In fact, Galrun believes he is at the opposite end of beauty. It’s just that Tyran is somehow even further than he is.

“Ah you’re here.” Tyran mutters before rolling his eyes slower than is necessary. It’s a clear display that he is displeased to have Galrun in his presence, which is a far cry from the last time they’d met. Galrun remembers the praise Tyran had heaped on him as well as… At first the memories are foggy as though they have been obstructed but as he focuses on them the fog lifts surprisingly fast. When they do Galrun feels a surge of anger expanding within him. He keeps control of it as he seeks answers as to why it was, and is, there.

“Report.” Tyran offers with a casual wave of one of his hands.

But Galrun hesitates not because he doesn’t have the words to say. Instead, he hesitates because he has been too focused on following the strands of the anger back to their source. The delay draws a raised eyebrow from Tyran who shifts and straightens so he is no longer lounging but instead sat with a hard look of impatience carved into his face.

Galrun having caught sight of the look on Tyran’s face and his brain having finally processed Tyran’s words answers. “I reached the camp Tyran. Your numbers were depleted. I issued the order to attack after being briefed by your general.”

“Those are details I do not care about Galrun. I can surmise that myself. So hurry and get to your failure.” Tyran barks.

“He is unaware.” The voice then blurts from the ether, drawing Galrun’s gaze off to his left. Tyran catches the movement of the massive man’s eyes but takes it as an attempt to dream up an excuse for his failures. The ruler of the One Sun Domain decides not to say anything but he does keep a watchful eye as he waits for a response.

“The natives. The Pashtani. Were formidable foes, too formidable in fact.” Galrun admits seeing no reason to not be honest even if something that he can only say can be described as akin to an itch starts to worm within his head. It’s not quite painful but it is certainly causing him far more irritation then he wishes to endure at this moment in time.

“Is this a joke?” Tyran asks leaning toward Galrun, a sneer on his round and wrinkled face.

“No Tyran. The general told me what they faced were the natives. Another I overheard refer to them as the Pashtani.” Galrun answers honestly though Tyran does not believe him.

“The Pashtani are dead. You were sent there to lead the men through the desert of the Pashtan region to clear the remaining adjutants from the four kingdoms armies who have been delaying my army’s progress.” Tyran details while his top lip quivers slightly with rage. It’s a tick that Galrun has never seen the man suffer before now.

“The truth Galrun! I want the truth! Not these obvious lies! The Pashtani were killed decades ago! I was there! There is nothing left of them…” Tyran erupts before coming to sudden pause. It’s clear he was going to finish his sentence differently but for some reason didn’t. Galrun wonders what the ruler of the One Sun Domain had planned to say when the voice proclaims, “The truth.”

Galrun resists the urge he feels to roll his eyes. Tyran will almost certainly believe the gesture is aimed at him. However, he only just manages to resist the urge, while he continues to offer no response to Tyran who is clearly impatiently awaiting one.

“Fine. Have it your way.” Tyran then spits angrily before he launches into the incantation, “By fire and blade, I will be obeyed.”

The ruler of the One Sun Domain repeats the incantation several times but it doesn’t have the effect it should. Tyran could tell immediately, which is why he repeated the incantation, and that is something he has never had to do before. One run through of the line has always been enough prior to this moment, but maybe he can still get the warrior back under control if he recites the incantation a few more times.

“The spell is broken.” The voice roars in Galrun’s ears as flashes as fast as rain drops falling from the heavens tear across his vision.

Tyran catches the rapid blinking of Galrun’s eyes and his own eyes go wide in response. The ruler now has all the proof he needs to confirm that he has lost control over Galrun. That means not only has the spell failed to contain the man but he is clearly remembering aspects of his past as well. Tyran doesn’t know how this is possible but it doesn’t change the need he feels to scream, “Kill him!”

As soon as Tyran finishes bellowing his two word order however the doors to his ‘throne room’ burst open. Everyone turns toward the doors, except Tyran who is already facing them head on. The guards don’t understand what they are seeing, but Tyran does as the forms of the Pashtani stand armed and ready to attack.

At that precise moment it all makes sense to Galrun. The pieces having now all slid into place. He remembers everything, which is why he quickly pulls the longsword from its scabbard at the same time that the Pashtani launch into an attack.

Tyran screams as he throws himself over one of the chairs of his ‘throne.’ He hits the floor hard but he ignores the pain. He hurriedly scrambles to his feet and then darts across to the left side of the hall. Galrun tries to follow but several of the guards leap forward to block his path and attack.

Galrun blocks the first swipe, then grabs the second with his gauntled hand. He wrenches the blade from the guards’ own hands and then uses the weapon to club the third guard, who topples backward with a shattered nose and just in time to block a second swipe. Galrun puts his weight behind this second block and forces the attacker off balance. The opening created as a result gives Galrun just enough time to skewer the one attacker and then turn to block the attack of the second. The third guard, meanwhile, is still thrashing about on the floor in agony as Galrun swings the blunt end of the claimed sword into the only attacking guards’ right temple. The guards’ helmet crumples at the point of impact moments before his body goes stiff and then slams to the stone floor, dead.

Galrun withdraws his blade leaving the run through guard to fall backward away from him dead. He doesn’t bother with the third and final guard that had dared to block his path as he turns and sprints in the direction Tyran had wriggled off. Not that it matters that Galrun left one of the guards alive as one of the Pashtani finishes the still bleating man before he has a chance to scramble away in terror.

Having left the confines of the ‘throne room’ Galrun is hot on the heels of Tyran who because of his much shorter legs is struggling to make any real progress at opening a back between himself and his pursuer, even though Galrun is clad in heavy armour plating. The realisation of this has lead to a slight smile having formed across the warriors face as guards ordered to stop him throw themselves in his direction.

Galrun refuses to slow however, and instead shoulder barges the first guard, who is sent cart wheeling through the air until he slams face first into one of the stone walls. The second meets an even worse fate as Galrun bats his strike aside moments before the massive hulk of man’s gauntled mitt grabs the guard around the throat and then uses his body to shield Galrun against the attacks of the next two guards. Galrun’s human shield screams in response to the wounds that his allies are inflicting upon him while trying desperately to take down Galrun. Unfortunately, the first of the twin attackers meets his end as a Pashtani lunges through the stone wall of the corridor and stabs the guard through the back of the neck so hard that the point of the blade bursts through the guards’ jugular eliciting only a gurgle in response. The other of the twin attackers meanwhile, has the human shield guard thrown at him. The impact of the collision sends the pair through the air and into the stone wall with an almighty boom, which cracks the stone. Neither guard makes another move.

However, a couple Pashtani make sure to deliver a few stabs just to be sure the guards are dead, while Galrun vaults up the steep stone spiral stairs two at a time. But as he approaches the third and final floor of the spiral stone staircase his path is blocked by a larger guard. The mass of armour that serves as a member of Tyran’s personal protection is still smaller than Galrun but not by a lot. Still, Galrun smiles as the guard raises his blade above his head ready for a downward strike that leaves him open to a jab. And that is exactly what Galrun does, except he releases his grip on the hilt of his sword as he thrusts his arm forward. The guard realises too late what is happening and the blade of Galrun’s longsword slams through the thin armour of the guards’ chest, shattering his ribcage. But the guard doesn’t stagger aside, not that Galrun expected him to as he reaches the hilt of his sword and forces it deeper into the man’s chest before then spinning a hundred and eighty degrees and finally withdrawing his sword. The manoeuvre allows Galrun to carry his momentum forward as he tears down the length of the corridor still in pursuit of Tyran.

If anyone tries to climb the spiral stairs behind him now they will have to clamber over the corpse of the large guard, but that is not what has drawn a fresh smile to Galrun’s face. Instead, the warrior is smiling as he spies Tyran slip through the doorway of another set of spiral stairs, except these have only one destination and that is the room at the top of the tallest tower. Galrun doesn’t know that he will be ascending the tallest tower but he knows that they lead to a dead-end nonetheless.

If Tyran thinks a wooden door will stop Galrun reaching him then he drastically underestimates the warrior, though it dawns on Galrun that there could be either weapons or more guards up there. He doubts the latter seeing as none of the tips of the towers have ever looked big enough to Galrun to accommodate much. That doesn’t mean that he can’t afford to dismiss such a notion however, as he reaches the stone steps. This time he elects to take them one at time and having dropped out of a full sprint is now ploughing forward with a strong stride.

Galrun makes it about half way up the tower before the spiral stone steps end and force him to step out onto a circular floor occupied by two of Tyran’s personal guards. Behind them on the far side is a set of steps he assumes will take him to the top and his goal, Tyran. There is no way the ruler of the One Sun Domain could have double backed. To achieve that Tyran would have either had to pass Galrun or jump to his death. Galrun is sure the ruler wouldn’t dream of doing the latter, but if he had there would be no reason for these guards to be here waiting for him. It’s clear they are merely serving as blockers to his progress as they both throw themselves at Galrun. One of the pair is wielding a mace while the other brandishes a short sword. Neither men concern Galrun who blocks the mace and then delivers a metal plated kick to the sword wielders knee. The guard screams in agony as an audible crack can be heard in response to the kick. The injured guard staggers backward while desperately trying to stop himself from crashing to the bare wooden planks that serve as the floor. The boards creak and moan in response to the weight of the three men, which slightly concerns Galrun who wonders the last time this tower saw any real use. From the dust he noticed during his ascent his guess would be years, but he doesn’t know for sure as another mace swing comes his way. This time Galrun blocks with his sword and then wraps his gauntlet around the hand of the weapons wielder and squeezes as tight as he can. The mace wielding guard howls as his hand is consumed and crushed by Galrun. Unfortunately, the man mountain doesn’t get to exploit the opening he has created as he is forced to back away due to a swipe from the still struggling guard. His short sword tearing through the air Galrun had occupied seconds earlier. But the guard with the short sword can’t control his swipe and continues his momentum. Had there been no obstacle Galrun is sure the man would have continued his spin, but instead the short swords flat edge slams into the chest of the other guard who shoves him aside in response. This unplanned opening is enough for Galrun to exploit and he does so as he strikes. The tip of his blade disappears into the short sword wielders gut before he slams his fist into the nose of the other guard. Both howl in response to the attacks from the warrior who quickly yanks the sword free of the one guard and then drives his blade up through the base of the mace wielders jaw before he has a chance to strike. The guard with the damaged gut meanwhile has stumbled backward, his weapon out of his hand as he clutches at his vicious wound.

Galrun looks into the eyes of the guard whose head he has just brutally skewered while blood drips from the underside of the man’s jaw onto Galrun’s armour and the floor. The warrior snarls and then wrenches his sword sideways through the man’s skull, ripping the dead man’s face clean off as the injured guard begins to beg and whimper for mercy. Galrun will show him none and not because he is well aware that it is a ruse and that the guard is desperately fishing for a concealed dagger.

So Galrun simply drives the point of his blood smeared blade through the man’s throat as he tries to throw himself forward to stab Galrun. The guard hadn’t got far and his body, as well as the dagger in his hand, drop to the floor as his eyes rapidly glaze over. Galrun wrenches his sword free, leaving blood to burble from the wound as he heads up the new set of stairs. He notes these are made of wood as he climbs and finishes cleaning his blade.

There are no more guards or challengers during the rest of Galrun’s short climb so when he steps out onto the wider circular floor which has a tall window at one end he isn’t surprised to see Tyran standing there. The middle aged man has a terrified look, unlike Galrun has ever seen before, in his eyes and a dagger in his trembling left hand. The tip of the dagger is pointed toward Galrun but they both know that even if Tyran manages to get a hit in, that it will do nothing to the massive warriors’ thick armour. Except make an ear-splitting noise, that is.

“H-how is this possible? How did you break the spell? How are the Pashtani here?” Tyran rambles without pause before he gulps loudly several times, even though Galrun has made no attempt to move toward Tyran.

“I killed them all. I watched them die. Burned and butchered!” Tyran continues. His eyes are mad and wide as he speaks. His free hand resting on the stone recess that runs around the edge of the windows thinly planed glass opening. It’s cool to the middle aged man’s touch, but he doesn’t care about that. On any other day or at any other time he might, but not right now.

The answer Tyran gets however is not the one he expected as suddenly the figures of the Pashtani literally phase through the walls and floor around Galrun. Tyran’s face goes as white as a sheet in response. The ruler even begins to tell himself that hysteria is making him see things and that the figures, bar Galrun, are not real.

“N-no. This can’t be possible. Whatever this trick is…stop it!” Tyran blurts as his right hand leaves the smooth cool stone surface around the edge of the window to clamp around his other in an attempt to steady the dagger he has hold of. It doesn’t really work to make his hold on the weapon any steadier, but it does stop him from dropping the dagger entirely and he had been at a real risk of managing that.

“There is no trick here.” Galrun replies with a calm expression on his face. The warrior is sure that Tyran knows what’s coming. He doesn’t expect the ruler of the One Sun Domain to surrender as Galrun recalls how he watched his people slaughtered and his town burned to the ground in the dead of night. The memory makes his blood boil but now he has his memories back he has control of his rage. But if Tyran thinks that what will come next is revenge then he is wrong. The rulers’ death will be justice not just for the deaths of the Pashtani, but also the deaths of all the other lives he has ended.

Galrun played his part, but because of a curse that was put upon him by a witch who had once served Tyran. Galrun remembers now how she herself was put to death, not at his hand, though he had been present. At the time he’d had no opinion of the sentencing, but now fully in control of himself again, he does. She’d been killed so that there were no barriers over Tyran’s control on Galrun.

The problem was when Galrun returned to the Pashtan region and was overwhelmed by his people they released the curse. Tyran hadn’t been expecting that. In fact, he never dreamed that such a thing would be possible. If he’d have known he would have never sent the warrior to his home region. Perhaps he’d never have allowed Galrun, who had been a boy at the time, to live.

“It has to be! You are the last Pashtani! And now I wish I’d ended your life too!” Tyran roars trying to be defiant even though he feels endless terror swirling throughout his body.

“The Pashtani never die.” Galrun remarks with a slow shake of his head that helps to emphasise his words.

“Argh!” Tyran roars as he throws himself at Galrun, but the massive Pashtani warrior simply slashes his sword horizontally. The blade, which moves faster than Tyran could have imagined, severs the rulers head clean off seconds before Galrun delivers a hard kick to the headless torso, which is flung backward, out of the window. The thin white glass of the window explodes into tiny shards as the body and the severed head, which was caught by the backward momentum of the body following the kick, leave the confines of the tower before rocketing down toward the cobbled courtyard below.

It takes only seconds for the body and head to cover the distance between their point of origin and destination, but once they reach the courtyard they slam unrelentingly into the uneven stones. The severed head flattened along its left flank, while the body lies flat on its back seemingly in better shape.

A thick dark crimson pool quickly starts to spread around the split remains of the dead Tyran Polenter, former ruler of the One Sun Domain. His death has means an end his been brought to the more than two decades of war that saw hundreds of thousands of people die in battle and millions more starve as a result of his cruelties.

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