Illusions of Power
Mia had finally gotten everyone together for a little campout weekend. The additions to her house were finished at last. The work would have been done sooner if the Ronins and Sentinels had let her hire construction people instead of insisting on doing the work themselves to save her money. Saviors of the world they may have been, but efficient laborers they were not. Having Gilgamesh blow out the side of the dining room with his Sonic Shout hadn’t helped, either. But now things were finally nice and quiet. No demon hordes, evil spirits, or vengeful ancient gods trying to take over or destroy the world. All the Ronins were there—Ryo, Sage, Sai, Kento, and Rowen. All the Sentinels besides herself—Zane, Zoe, Gilgamesh, Trace, Jack, and Anubis. Astarte, White Blaze, and Oshay were also there. Somehow even the Dark Warlords and Kayura found time from their work rebuilding the Dynasty to come. It was strange to see them all in one place. Even Uli was there. Uli. She didn't want to believe that anything was wrong with him, but she couldn't lie to herself anymore. He was weaker and more sickly every time she saw him (due to what happened to him in SW5: Land of H'ris). Astarte had tried to tell her that the poison was still in him, but she was too happy to have him back at the time. She winced as he coughed. Mia would keep an eye on him. No doubt Astarte already was. They would do everything they could to make him well again.
Everyone was sitting around the campfire, eating and talking. The Dark Warlords looked a little uncomfortable in such surroundings, but they were trying. Mia looked around and noticed that Dais and Kayura were having a few whispered, angry words. Kayura got up from the fire and walked away. Dais followed her. The two of them stopped a few yards away where they continued to have heated words. Mia couldn’t make out what they were saying, nor did she try. It wasn’t any of her business. The others seemed too interested in their own conversations to notice.
But someone else had seen the whole exchange. Kale hated social gatherings. He didn’t know why he let Anubis talk him into coming. Just another occasion for people to put on false faces for each other. He hated illusions—illusions of trust, comraderie. He suddenly noticed that Kayura and Dais weren’t with the group. They were nearby, arguing again. They’d been doing that a lot lately. Dais had always gotten under his skin. Maybe he could return the favor—he was in that kind of mood. Kale addressed those at the fire, but made sure his voice was loud enough to reach Dais and Kayura. “I know what the problem with those two is…”
Sekhmet turned on him with a look of venom. “Shut up, you fool! Don’t start trouble.”
Kale continued. “Kayura’s disappointed in her new lover.”
Anubis just shook his head in exasperation. “Not again.”
Kale sneered. “Maybe if Kayura had a real man to take care of her, she wouldn’t look so…starved for affection.” Sekhmet glared at him menacingly, but Kale kept on. “Maybe she’s not your type. You know, now that I think about it, with all the women Talpa gave us for our amusement, I don’t remember you ever indulging. Maybe you prefer boys.”
Dais charged Kale, knocking him to the ground. He slammed his fist into Kale’s face. Blood splurted everywhere. Dais kept pummeling him like a madman. “I had to take such insults from Talpa, but not from you! I warned you before you thousand-fathered son of a dung-heap prostitute!”
“No one insults my parentage and walks away!” Kale pushed Dais off and got to his feet. He kicked Dais solid in the stomach. Dais looked up at him with a murderous glint in his eyes. Kale laughed. “Is that all the fire you had, Warlord of Illusion? Or do you need to hide behind your armor to beat others? Fight me like a man…if you can.”
“ENOUGH!” Anubis held Dais back just as Sekhmet took hold of Kale’s arm. Anubis looked at them with disgust. “Two greater fools I have never seen!”
Kale stared at him. “What’s the matter, Anubis? You used to find our little quarrels amusing.”
“When we served Talpa, yes. But then we all found amusement in such things. We are his puppets no longer! We don’t have to play his games of hate anymore. Look at you! Like snarling dogs who can’t control themselves when the master is gone. Talpa used to stop your fights before they came to blows only because he would get sick of your childish bickering. But don’t think it didn’t serve his purposes to have us wary of each other. Talpa would not allow alliances or friendships.”
Sekhmet spoke to Kale. “I tried to warn you that you were going too far this time. The two of you always seem to find just the right insults to cut the deepest, but tonight you insulted Dais in front of someone he cares a great deal for. And you insulted her as well.”
Kale shrugged off Sekhmet’s grip. He knew he was right. He hadn’t really meant to insult Kayura. And he never expected Dais to go off like that. He never had before. He saw the way Kayura came over to Dais, worry in her eyes. She gently checked him for injury. Was Sekhmet right? Did they have feelings for one another? That would explain it. Kale smirked to himself. Perhaps Kayura would make Dais less annoying.
Sekhmet thought that the situation was diffused for now. But what about later? This same fight would happen again. The Dynasty still guarded its secrets--secrets that would destroy them all eventually. His own recent experience fighting the H’ris had made him very thoughtful of past follies and their long-lasting consequences. Perhaps it was time to lay some ghosts to rest. “I have something to say. Listen well.” Sekhmet started to pace. “We have all kept many things hidden from one another. That was Talpa’s way. But this has given him power over us even now. I was his first Dark Warlord. I saw how he corrupted and recruited the rest of you. I have seen the things that scarred your souls and made you willing to give yourselves to Talpa’s power. The only way to completely free ourselves from his taint is to speak what we have kept hidden so long.”
Dais was staring at the ground. “I think you are right. There is something I have been trying to explain to someone whose regard means much to me, but I can never find the right words. Perhaps if I tell my story from the beginning, she will understand.” Dais walked over to the fire and sat down. Kayura came to sit beside him. The others looked at each other uncomfortably, but no one said a word. Kale sat further away, looking out into the night but still listening. Dais stared into the flames and took a deep breath.
“Uncle Sardon! Father said you were to take me riding today!”
“I’m busy, Dais. Your father has put me in charge of many important duties. Get one of the royal horsemen to take you. That is their job after all.”
“I don’t like having those buffoons with their cloddish warhorses near my priceless racer. You must take me! I command it!”
“I’m busy you little brat! Take yourself!”
Dais looked at him with a malicious little smirk. “If you don’t take me out riding now, I’ll tell father how you’ve spoken to me and he’ll have you punished. You should be nicer to me, Uncle. I’m going to be lord of this province someday and then you’ll serve me. If you talk to me like that when I’m lord, I’ll have you flogged.”
Sardon pasted an artificial smile on his face and got up. He bowed low to Dais. “My apologies, young lord. My work has left me exasperated and short-tempered. If you will allow me to change into my riding clothes, I will meet you at the stables in a few moments.”
“That’s better. Don’t be long, Uncle.”
Kale interrupted the story. “Some things never change. You were as arrogant and annoying then as you are now.”
Surprisingly Dais didn’t get angry at this remark. He looked at Kayura. “I really was a spoiled brat. My father gave me everything I ever wanted materially. No one was allowed to deny me anything. Unfortunately, I was demanding with someone I should rather have watched my step with—my uncle. He was far more dangerous than I imagined. I always spoke to him like he was my lackey because I thought being the lord’s heir made me untouchable. My uncle had other ideas. I found that out several weeks later. Let me get back to the story.”
Dais was awakened by loud voices, scuffling sounds, running footsteps. It sounded like fighting. He rang the bell for a servant, but no one came. Annoyed, he got up and grabbed his robe. He stepped out into the hall…and into chaos. People were running everywhere, screaming and crying. Three soldiers were coming towards him.
“There’s the young lord. Get him!”
Dais immediately took up a fighting stance. He may have been a pampered rich boy, but his father had made him study armed and unarmed combat as well as music, art, and literature. Dais dodged the swing of one’s sword and kicked him in the knee. Dais grabbed his wrist as the soldier fell, twisting the sword from his grasp. He sliced across the man’s throat, opening it wide. He brought the sword up just in time to block another man’s downward slash. He broke away to swing at the other soldier. Their blades clanged with fury as they blocked each other’s blows fast and furious. The other one tried to attack him from the side but Dais slammed the pommel of his sword back into the man’s face. The man dropped to the floor screaming in pain. Dais then quickly thrust out at the momentarily stunned soldier in front of him, ramming the blade into his chest all the way to the hilt. He heard several more angry voices approaching and took off around the corner.
Dais ran right into his uncle. “Uncle! Thank the ancestors it’s you! We need to find my father quickly.” Dais looked back the way he came, expecting more soldiers any minute. “Someone is attempting to take over the palace!”
“Yes, Lord Dais. I know.” He struck Dais on the back of the head with something solid and heavy. Dais could see the feet of the approaching soldiers as he lost consciousness.
When Dais next opened his eyes, he was being held fast by two soldiers, his hands and feet bound tight. As his vision cleared, a familiar face appeared before him--his uncle. Sardon was practically drooling with mad glee as he struck Dais across the face. “Well, well, my Lord Dais. Should I bow and scrape to you now?”
“What is the meaning of this, Uncle? Answer me now or…”
“Or what? You’ll have me flogged?” He struck Dais again.
Just then Dais saw the leader of his father’s army stride towards them. He was relieved. “General Zerksis! I want this man arrested! He dared to strike me! Put him in the filthiest dungeon we have until I talk to my father about how soon I can have him punished!”
Zerksis laughed. “I’m sorry, boy. But your father won’t be speaking to anyone ever again.”
It was then that Dais noticed the General was carrying something…something bloody. It was a…a head…his father’s head. “FATHER!! NOOOOO!! You’ll be executed for this you treacherous dogs! Executed in the most painful way I can find!”
His uncle grabbed his chin so he could look him in the eyes. “And who will carry out your orders, little boy? We’ve taken care of anyone loyal to your father. Everyone left inside these palace walls serves me. I am lord of this province now.”
Zerksis unsheathed his sword. “Do you want me to execute the boy now, Sardon?”
An evil smile twisted up on Sardon’s face. “Oh, no, General. I have plans for this one. His father was a fool, but never mocked me the way Dais did. My brother was content to let me run his kingdom while he amused himself with music and entertainment. Killing him was like crushing a silly little flower to build a great empire. But this one…this one has lorded his authority over me for years, making me grovel to him, do his every bidding, humiliate myself before the court. Now I will make sure our young lord learns the value of humility for himself. Put him in the dungeon until I decide on the most degrading fate I can devise for him. And, of course, you must put him in the filthiest dungeon we have.” Sardon laughed long and loud as Zerksis had his men drag Dais away.
Dais lost track of time as he lingered in a dark cell, fed just enough to keep him alive for whatever Sardon was planning for him. The once mighty Dais reduced to rags and bone, attended by only the rats.
Kento interrupted. “Is that when Talpa showed up and offered you the armor if you’d serve him?”
“Oh, no. Not yet. Talpa was waiting for me to let the darkness in so my soul would be his. At that point I hated my uncle, but I didn’t know what real hatred was—the kind that beats like a living thing in every fiber of your being, that fills your thoughts and heart with dark bloodlust and violence. I had only just begun to hate.” Dais stopped for a few minutes, staring up at the night sky. The others weren’t sure if he’d continue.
Kayura could see he was agitated. “You don’t have to go on if…”
“Yes, I do. You need to know this and I think I need to talk about it at last.” He stared at the fire and went on.
Some months later Sardon finally had Dais brought before him. His soldiers held Dais fast. “My, my. You don’t look so fine and noble now, my boy. Have you enjoyed your stay in the royal suite?”
Dais spat at him. “You murderous toad! Give me a sword and face me like a man instead of the cowardly snake you are!”
Sardon merely smiled. “It seems you haven’t learned anything of humility, Nephew. But that’s not a problem anymore. You’ll learn. I’ve finally figured out what to do with you.” He waved to one of the servants who went out and returned with another man. The man was a large, swarthy oaf with a sweaty sheen on his twisted face. Hanging from his belt was a whip and a leash. He leered at Dais. “Dais, I want you to meet your new master, Keliban.”
“Master? What are you talking about? I’m a lord. I serve no one!”
Sardon turned to Keliban. “See what I mean? The addle-brained wretch thinks he’s a nobleman’s son. He recently snuck into the palace somehow and tried to order the servants around as if he were highborn. He even calls himself Dais—the name of my poor deceased nephew. Can you imagine? He’s so obviously of the lower class. We could have found a place for him here as a servant, but with the recent and tragic death of my brother and nephew from sudden illness, his ravings would only upset this bereaving household. You understand don’t you?” Keliban gave Sardon a knowing look—one that said he knew the true story but liked Sardon’s better.
“Well, My Lord Sardon. I’m sure we’ll get some use out of him.”
“Oh, he has a problem with arrogance. Perhaps you could teach the boy his place.”
“No problem there, My Lord. All the pretties learn their place right quick at my establishment.”
Sardon smiled coldly at Dais. “Young boy, did I forget to mention that Keliban runs one of the filthiest brothels in the countryside? One that caters to people of the lowest, most digusting, most depraved tastes? With your pretty face, I’m sure you’ll be very popular there. Perhaps I’ll come by sometime to see how you’re getting along.” Sardon got up and swept past Dais as if he weren’t even there.
“Uncle! No! Please! You can’t do this! Please, no!”
Sardon left the room without a backward glance. “Have a nice life, boy.” Sardon’s laughter echoed down the hall.
Dais screamed for his uncle until Keliban had the soldiers beat him into unconsciousness.
Zoe’s shocked gasp broke the spell of the story. “How could he? Your own flesh and blood?”
Zane hugged his sister. “You know better than anyone that ties of blood don’t automatically make people care about each other. Our own father could barely stand the sight of us.”
“But, it’s just so…”
Dais looked at her. “Cold-blooded? Yes it was. But that was his character.” He took Kayura’s hand. “I’m not going to say much about the time I spent there. I don’t think I can talk about…certain things yet. I lived through several years of the most vile, disgusting, perverted things one person can do to another. I would have killed myself if Keliban hadn’t left explicit instructions that I was to always be watched and never left alone. I managed to escape my guards twice, but each time my uncle found me and dragged me back. Sometimes he came to watch me…be humiliated. I think it gave him some kind of sick pleasure. One day I did escape and my uncle did not get me again.”
Kale had been listening attentively to the tale, but had not even once looked at Dais. Kale suddenly turned to him. “Is that when Talpa found you?”
“Not yet. I don’t think I had enough strength then to be much use to him. I’d fled into the wilderness where I eventually came upon a monastery. The monks saw what a terrible state I was in and took care of me. I stayed with them for months, learning of their simple and serene ways. I think that was the first time in my life I felt truly at peace.”
Sekhmet interrupted. “That made Talpa furious. He’d watched with anticipation as you began turning into a person full of dark hatred and bloodlust. But those monks were a threat to the plans he had for you. They were teaching you their peace-loving ways. Talpa knew he had to act soon while you were still emotionally vulnerable or they would undo everything. He waited until you went into the forest to gather some healing plants for one of the monks. He had appeared to Sardon and offered him power…and you as an extra bonus. Talpa had no intention of allying himself with Sardon. He just wanted him to find you and destroy what little sense of security and stability you had left.”
“Well his plan worked perfectly. When I got back to the monastery, I found the bloody bodies of several of the monks in the outer yard. I knew my uncle was inside. I felt an anger, a hatred, so intense when I saw their bodies. I wanted to destroy everything and take my uncle and crush him, eviscerate him, scatter his entrails…” He realized he was shaking with rage. The faces around the fire stared at him, not knowing if he was going to explode. “I…uh…sorry.” He stopped to get a hold of himself. “At that moment I was willing and eager for power, any kind of power. That is when Talpa appeared, offering me the armor. I took it without hesitation.”
Uli’s eyes were like saucers. “Wow! So that’s when you became an evil Dark Warlord?”
“Almost. It wasn’t accepting the armor that made me one of Talpa’s minions. It was what I did with it that enslaved me. In order for Talpa to get a foothold in your soul, to fill it with his dark emotions, his cruel habits, you have to let him in by using the armor for evil purposes. If I had used my newfound power to destroy my uncle and his men, I don’t think Talpa could have gotten to me. I would have been stopping a despot and murderer. But I went too far. I felt intoxicated by the power and went back to the palace and leveled it. I killed everyone in it because somehow they were all against me, had all sneered and laughed at my downfall. Then I went to the brothel and completely destroyed it. I wanted to wipe that filthy place from the earth forever. Everyone inside died. But some of the people who worked there weren’t there of their own choice. Some were innocents who had been dealt a cruel hand by fate. If a family could not support all of its children, it was common in those days to sell a few to the merchants for labor or the rich for servants. Some greedy parents would even sell them to the brothels because they tended to pay more—provided the children were pretty enough.”
Rowan shook his head in anger. “And people somewhere out there are still doing it today! What kind of a world do we live in where people care so little about their kids?”
Zane and Zoe exchanged a sad look.
“Once I had used the armor to kill innocent people, I was lost. I’d allowed the darkness in my soul to control my actions. Talpa was able to latch onto that, nurturing and strengthening it with his own tumorous evil until I was the vile person he wanted me to be. But there were some aversions too deeply rooted, still some things he could not make me do. The women Talpa gave us for our amusement…I could never…not even if they wanted…let alone take one by force. Just the thought of such contact disgusted me for many years.”
Kale was taken aback by these words. Did Dais actually think that he and the other Warlords had raped the women Talpa gave them?
Dais got up and walked away from the fire. Kayura followed him. “Dais? Is that why you wouldn’t…when we were…”
“Yes. You are the first woman I have ever cared about. That is why I’m trying hard to overcome this. But it may take some time. Are you a patient person?”
“For you I can be.
In a strange way this is relief—the knowing. I thought I had done something wrong, that you were bored with
me, or playing games with my affection.
That’s why I was so angry with you.”
She moved closer. “Is embracing
okay? Can we do that?”
“Yes. I don’t have a problem with that anymore.” He put his arms around her and held her tight.
“Good. That’s all I need for now.”
Kale stood up and turned to Dais, anger in his eyes. “You honestly think that the other Warlords and I forced ourselves on the women Talpa gave us?”
“Didn’t you? You boasted often enough of your conquests.”
“Only with those women who willingly wanted to be in my bed. There were plenty of them who were attracted to my strength and good looks…”
Sage and Kento rolled their eyes. “Oh, brother.”
“Shut up!” He turned back to Dais. “Enough that I didn’t have to drag them to my chambers. I would never…could never take a woman like that—not even under Talpa’s influence! What kind of a monster do you think I am?”
There was complete silence for several minutes. It was Sekhmet who broke it. “Perhaps it is time for you to tell your story, Kale.”
Kale glared at him. Sekhmet laughed. “You always could tell a good tale. Now you have a captive audience.”
“This is idiotic.”
“After you are done, I will share my story.”
Anubis rose. “And I as well.” He looked across at Oshay. “There are many things still unsettled.”
Kale was weakening. “I don’t know…perhaps. Fine! But no one interrupts!”