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Chapter 20: The Gamble

David Grimdark
Apr 15, 2024

69 Reads

“There are many currencies besides coin, one can also pay in time or blood.”

-Merchant King Huffar, the well travelled.

As I stood there in that godforsaken palace room, my world crumbling around me, I couldn't help but feel a surge of hatred rising within my chest.

My kingdom, some shit city in the sand, now reduced to this pitiful state before I could even fix it. All because of the treachery and greed of those who think themselves worthy. And here I was, their young Queen, being used as a pawn in their twisted game.

A mocking laugh echoed throughout the throne room cutting sharply through the sounds of fighting. It was a sound no one else could hear, a curse, a memory, a thought.

I could feel the cold metal of the knife pressed against my throat, a reminder of my vulnerability and the power held over me. My body trembled with rage and anger, but I refused to show it. I would not give this rat bastard the satisfaction of seeing me crumble. Reji held me painfully at the arm showing no care for my useless leg or scowl. He had caught me as I left Varga's estate, after Brutus and Reji had gone. He had used the guilds, putting a price on my head. My face contorted painfully as I thought of the bastards who took me, cloaked in shadow and wielding threatening blades, servants to no one but coin. 

His grip on my arm tightened as Reji ruthlessly ordered his few men to stab my troops from behind. I watched with a chill as my own soldiers, my subjects, fell to their knees, blood gushing from their wounds. They had been loyal to me, fought for me, and now they were being slaughtered. They had done well, many Empire forces littered the floor and the steps up had been slick with blood. Deep inside I saw Gezel striking efficiently atop camelback and I saw the hulking figure of Brutus swinging madly against the forces. Soon enough they realized the trap too and turned to see me.

Reji pricked my neck with the knife drawing blood and spoke confidently "So nice of you to round yourself up for me, Now, if you don't want your Queen to get her throat slit, I'd suggest you all surrender now."

Now I was to be used to reduce his losses, force my troops to falter and then he would mount my head on a pike. My mind raced, frantically trying to come up with a plan. I needed to get out of this situation, to save my people, to defeat this bastard. But how? I was outnumbered, outmatched, and at the mercy of this bastard.

"You think you can just waltz in here and take over my kingdom? Whore it out to the Empire" I spat, my voice dripping with venom.

Reji chuckled darkly, his grip on the knife tightening as he pressed it further into my neck. "I already have, my dear Queen. And there's nothing you can do about it."

I refused to let him see my fear, refusing to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he held all the cards. "I will never surrender to the likes of you. My people will fight."

"Your people? Ha!" Reji scoffed, his eyes glinting with malice. "They are nothing but worthless peasants, easily bought and sold. They are only here because you offered them the right price!" he shouted, his voice growing loud enough to be heard by the citizens nearby. He turned to them "Is that not so? What love do you have for this bitch? Queen of the City? Her promises mean nothing when she does not rule. Forget them, surrender, lay down your arms and you can live."

I could see aa flitter of despair spread throughout the bloody fighters, adrenaline and bloodlust draining from their faces as their faces grew fearful and their grips grew weak. I shouted desperately “No! Do not listen, he will kill you all-'' but my voice was cut off by Reji’s hand and a prodding blade. I struggled against Reji's hold, trying to break free and rally my troops. But it was too late. The seeds of doubt had been planted in their minds and Reji's words had taken root.

I struggled against Reji's hold, trying to break free and rally my troops. But it was too late. The seeds of doubt had been planted in their minds and Reji's words had taken root.

Slowly, one by one, my soldiers dropped their weapons and raised their hands in surrender. My heart sank as I watched them give up without a fight. Gezel attempted to whip them into shape barking orders but they weren't listening.

Reji sneered triumphantly, pushing me forward, shifting his knife to my stomach so he could speak vile words close to my face. "You see, Queen? Your people do not love you. They will betray you without a second thought." I struggled to bite his hand but his grip was iron. I could see Gezel getting ready to lead a futile charge and Brutus’s angry eyes staring at Reji. Even if Reji won I suspected he would have trouble with that one, but that didn’t matter, there was only the winner and the loser, and I was losing. I had suffered for years for this, tortured and abused, and he would take it? Fury mounted in my chest as mocking laughter filled my ears, somewhere a fat man sat on the throne laughing, taunting me. And in my desperation time slowed as my mind was vaulted inward, towards a twisted and dark place.

There is a door, I open it.

The scene of a young girl staring out over the city greets me, her skin while young is marred by bruises. Her eyes, while innocent, are stained by tears. I approach her and place my hand gently on her shoulder, she flinches and turns fearful eyes to me "Who are you?" she asked in a small voice. 

"I am you," I replied.

She takes me in and I see the despair in her face, before I can explain further the guards are upon me.

There is a door, I open it.

The room is small, filled by torches and a table with a girl strapped to it, next to it a large man mumbled to himself as he pick’s through some tools. After some time he gives up and grabs one of the torches, turning to the girl. She says something but I don’t hear it. He turns to me and asks if I’ve come to watch, his grin is monstrous, it grows as he puts the torch to the girl's face. Marring her skin and boiling her eye.

She screams, I scream.

There is a door, I open it.

It’s the palace garden and the girl, now a young teen, sits reading, her skin is scarred, one eye milky and one leg twisted. She has a frown for what is there to be happy about? She is shocked as another handsome merchant teen comes up to her handing her a rose, she thinks it poisoned and he laughs.

She laughs along hesitantly, enjoying the strange feeling.

I try to warn her but my mouth is covered.

There is a door, I open it.

On the ground lay the girl, beaten and sobbing, her father and the boy stand and laugh around her. Joking about how someone so ugly thought she could be loved. The boy makes his leave, his social standing increases and the father leans down, close to the girl's face.

He says this is a lesson, to never trust another, to never follow anyone else. He kicks her and she whimpers, he says how this is a lesson too, how as a leader it was her duty to accept the pain.

I turn away, my mouth filled with bile.

There is a door, I open it.

Inside it is a white room and at its center, a throne. Atop the throne sat a twisted thing, all sharp edges and anger. It wore a black crown and had a marred face and it drew in smoke from a small pipe.

It was me.

The thing on the throne cackled as it saw the realization dawn on my face. It taunted me, mocking me with every word it spoke. "You thought you could escape me, little girl? You thought you could run away from your past? You are nothing without me. I am your pain, your rage, your darkness. And you will never be free."

It leaned forward blowing smoke into my face, smoke that soothed my soul, it smiled, a twisted sarcastic smile, as if everything was some cruel joke.

“But I am also your strength,” it unsheathed a cruel dagger and held it to me, “do what needs to be done.” I stared at her, taking the pipe from her hand and taking a deep pull, “This will hurt.” I tell her, “It always does.” she replies. 

Then I grabher knife hand and sink the blade deep into my stomach.

Time resumes with a gasp, but not my own.

Reji stares confused at my hands which now run red with blood, he cannot comprehend the self-inflicted wound, he cannot comprehend my pain. And that is an opportunity.

“What is this?” he mumbles taking an awkward half step back, seeing someone unexpectedly get stabbed is confusing, even if it’s your enemy. I grip the blade and stare him in the eye 

“Your end.” I say rip out the artifact blade, his eyes go wide but before he can react I’ve sunk the blade hilt deep into his side, it seems he has no defensive artifacts left, his fight with Brutus was costly. He lets out a painful cry as he falls back defensively, the blade retracting as he steps back, I understand the pain clearly. It hurts going in, it’s agony coming out. My head is woozy, my body numb, somewhere inside I realize I am dying but I know my duty now as Queen, to lead.

I turn to the stunned crowd, all wide eyed, I hold up the bloody blade “I am Queen Ulgar, leader of the City and you are my subjects! Everything I have promised you I will deliver and more, I swear it on my blood and the blood of my enemies,” already I can feel movement behind me, the stunned Empire troops have recovered, I am a threat, they must kill me.

I care not, I am an ideal, ideals cannot be killed. 

FIGHT!” I scream and as if an extension of my will, my citizens, my soldiers, erupt into fury. I turn scowling at the Empire soldier coming in for the kill. An invader, coming to take my land. I will not go silent into the night, his eyes go wide as I lunge clumsily forward inside his blade swing, his hilt hits my shoulder painfully but my blade pierces his neck lethally, he goes down with a surprised gurgle.

I stumble backwards, trying to keep my balance as another Empire soldier charges towards me. Juggernauts this time, my knife will do little against their plate. I can hear the commotion all around me, the sounds of swords clashing, screams of pain, and shouts of triumph. My vision is starting to blur but I will not go down quietly.

I raise my blade again, ready to at least spit blood in their eyes and curse their mothers but before his blade can take my head a figure in heavy armor appears out of nowhere, blocking the soldier's attack with a loud clang. It's Brutus, his armor stained with blood and broken in many places, his face crazed with a mad grin plastered on his face.

"Your Majesty," he says, offering me a hand. "You sure know how to rally the troops."

I chuckle and start to respond but instead a forceful cough pushes through and I pull back shaky hands covered with blood. Without a word Brutus grabs me by the back of my uniform throwing me over his shoulder painfully, I clench my teeth as he swings his poleaxe pushing back the enemy forces. We retreat back into our line just as I hear the furious cry of Reji “KILL HER!”.

Guess I missed his heart, I thought with a shrug.

Brutus quickly brings me to our line, where Gezel is waiting, a panicked look on his face. My vision is now entirely blurred and I can barely stand. Brutus lifts me off his shoulder and Gezel attends to me, quickly applying pressure to my wound. I groan in pain but keep my eyes on the battle, I cannot let myself pass out now. 

"She needs the palace doctor, we need to end this fight now," he says.

No shit.

"Wrap the wound and help me stand." I say and cut off his complaints with a scowl. I grin at him pulling him close, blood trickling down my chin. "I want that rat to see me standing when he dies." I spit ferociously and his face goes stoic with duty. He nods, wraps the wound and returns to his camel but assigns a few of his men to guard me before running off to order the assault. 

“Brutus,” I said through clenched teeth, the mass of metal and hate turned his gaze to me, the bloodlust in those eyes made my blood run cold “I’ll create an opening, when I do, bring me his fucking head.”

He grinned back “With pleasure.” and then he was gone, a blur through the battlefield. I grit my teeth as I watch Brutus disappear into the fray. The pain in my shoulder is becoming unbearable and the numbness spreading from my stomach was more concerning. I can hear my soldiers fighting around me, their screams and battle cries filling the air. The sight of their determination only fuels my own.

The battlefield is a chaotic scene of blood, sweat, and steel. Swords clash against shields, axes chop through flesh, and arrows rain down from above. The sound of metal meeting metal is deafening, mixing with the screams of pain and shouts of triumph.

In the midst of it all, I stand tall, my weapon is not the blade but my cunning. It is doubly deadly. 

In the distance I see him, the traitor, commanding his foreign forces like some lord, like some King. His eyes are on me too, my death will mean his victory and he knows it. Like the maw of a ravenous beast the lines of Empire soldiers close in viciously, they march forward out of their fortifications stabbing. I see the tide shift my forces back and I see Gezel swiftly move his more trained men to failing points, they will hold, for now. This was now a desperate battle of annihilation and each side needed to behead the other.

Two leaders, injured, it would be wise for each to fall back and let the fighters do the fighting.

“With me.” I said and my new guards and they looked hesitant but I give them no chance to argue and storm off towards the rear line where Brutus is, where Reji is. The numbness in my stomach does little to numb the pain of walking on my leg, I snap my finger at one of my escorts “Give me your spear.” and he gives it. It’s not meant to be used as a walking stick, but it will do.

After a few moments, we reach the rear line, I waste no time for the blood soaking my uniform tells me there is none to waste, and raise the spear. "WHOEVER BRINGS ME REJI'S HEAD GETS THEIR PICK FROM THE FUCKING PALACE VAULT!" 

There is a pause of comprehension then a roar of glee.

The roar of glee turns into a deafening battle cry as my soldiers charge forward, their weapons raised high. The enemy soldiers are caught off guard, and in the chaos that follows, I make my way to the front, a somewhat elite group of Gezel's men behind me.

I grimace as I push through the pain in my shoulder and join the fray. The battle becomes a blur of blood, sweat, and steel as we fight for our lives. I see Brutus in the thick of it, his massive form crushing any enemy who dares to stand against him. He is more careful than usual, the gaps and cracks in his armor leave him open, this fight has not been easy. He catches my eye and gives me a fierce nod before turning back to the fight. I watch him fight for a moment and I can tell when he is gone, not present, something else takes over his body, something frightful.

I pull my attention away, hoping he will realize what I am doing and make use of it. I grip the spear in both hands and ram it into the Empire line past the shielded juggernauts and catching one lighter armored man in the rear. Instantly well aimed blades strike out in response from the Empire line but they are blocked by my men with a desperate shout, they urge me to retreat but I ignore them.

A good trap needs excellent bait. 

And like a hunter closing in on their prey the Empire line takes a step forward, it becomes denser and more curved, like a hand closing around a neck. Soldiers spurred on by greed begin to panic as their blades fail to find purchase on Empire plate. An unstoppable force and immovable object, they do not cow, they do not surrender, they only follow orders, that is the Empire. 

But what if that order was wrong? What if their commanding officer, knowledgeable in war and tactics was distracted by Gezel at the other front, what if all they had leading them was fool?

And like the disgusting bloodhound he is, Reji Ourlous appeared at the front, urging Empire forces to condense and sink their teeth into us. All around me my soldiers died, cursing the Empire and cursing me as they choked on their own blood. My guards pulled me back and I let them, the bait must be fresh, it must be convincing.

The pain must be true.

I close my eyes and breath it all in, I can feel it all, the emotions of the battle, the hopes and dreams and regrets. I can feel the blood pooling around my feet and the cool tingle of the end. Deep down I wonder why I did this, why I fought?

And yet I know there would be no other way. In this moment I realized I'd die on the throne one way or another.

"Yes, you will." my father said beside me, close and yet far. I open my eyes and he is gone. I regret much about my childhood.

I regret not killing him myself.

As the Empire soldiers close in, thinking they have finally caught their prey, I open my eyes and smile wickedly. With a sudden surge of adrenaline, I push myself up and launch myself forward, spear pointed directly at Reji Ourlous. Gezels men follow suite taking the lead, they are oath bound to protect their Queen, so they impale themselves upon the blades meant for me. The weight of their sacrifice blunts the Empire's defense, my spear slips through.

Reji is taken aback by my sudden attack and barely has time to raise his sword but he is fast, with a deft flick of his wrist his blade cuts off the tip of the spear sending it twirling in the air. It clatters against the grown with deafening silence. He looks at me incredulously, "What was that?" and readies his blade to kill me.

I flash him my best bloody smile, “That… was a distraction.”

And like a beast smelling blood Brutus came charging in, his poleaxe swinging wildly as he lets out a guttural roar. With Empire forces focused here he was able to break through the weaker line at the edge and barrel through. Some tried to stop him but with his mass and momentum he was unstoppable. His eyes are filled with bloodlust and rage, fueled by past betrayal and the future he was robbed of. Reji's face contorts into a mix of fear and confusion as he tries to block Brutus' blows, but the brute strength of the blow is too much for him.

With a sickening thud, Brutus' poleaxe connects with Reji's arm, slicing through flesh and bone, causing him to scream in agony. But Brutus is relentless, he continues his assault, striking blow after blow, each one more brutal than the last. Reji dances fatal blow after blow dancing with the desire to live but his injury has not gone unnoticed. My forces are emboldened by the blood of the enemy, strike with renewed strength and the Empire line buckles at the blows, we are bloodied but not dead. Reji would find no help from his borrowed forces. 

And so I stepped back from the front letting what remains of the rear force take over and I observed the death of a usurper.

The air is filled with the deafening clash of metal on metal, as two men face off in a duel to the death. The fighting continues on mercilessly around them, as they circle each other like wild animals, each assessing their opponent's weaknesses. Brutus, a towering beast of a man, stands tall and strong, his eyes wild with bloodlust and rage, his body covered in wounds. He was the thing that allowed Reji to strike at me, now he would be the thing that killed Reji. 

Their blades meet with a resounding crash, sending sparks flying in all directions. Brutus' poleaxe glints in the torchlight, its sharp edge glimmering with the promise of death. He lets out a guttural roar, fueled by something ungodly.

As the fight rages on, Reji struggles to hold his own against Brutus' relentless onslaught. His one good arm is bruised and battered, but he refuses to give up. With a snarl of determination, he parries Brutus' attacks with swift precision, his sword dancing in his remaining hand like a snake.

But Brutus is unfazed, his eyes locked on Reji with a primal intensity. He knows that this man, knows his tricks. With a fierce roar, he charges forward, swinging his poleaxe with a might that is unlockable and with light footwork Reji dances back barely clearing the blow.

With a ferocious grin Brutus continues the swing letting the momentum and weight turn him on his heel grinding into the marbled floor. He spins fast and comes back around just in time to let go of the blade and send it hurtling at the now off balance Reji.

Reji’s body reacts lightning quick and he attempts to duck the blade but he is injured and his leg slips on the blood that has pooled around his feet. The blade sinks deep into the side of his chest and the weight tumbles him to the side like a dead log.

As Reji laid on the ground spewing blood, Brutus stood over him, his eyes blazing with triumph. He grips his poleaxe with both hands, ready to deliver the final blow. But before he can strike, Reji manages to look up at him, blood dribbling from his lips, he mouths something.

We could have had everything. Was it worth it, revenge?

Brutus cocks his head to the side, looking down at Reji, his voice carrying through the fighting. "Yes." he sneers, his voice dripping with malice.

With a grunt of effort, Brutus pulls out his poleaxe from Reji with a wet squish and brings it back down, severing Reji's head from his body and the feeble hand he held to attempt and block the blow. He picked up the head with one large hand holding it up.

“REJI OURLOUS-” he bellowed with a inhumane volume causing a chill to run down my spine and all fighting to pause for the briefest moment, a silence came which he then filled “-IS DEAD,” he threw the head and it trailed blood in the air landing just behind me, I looked back at Brutus seeing him for what he was, a bloodthirsty murderer, a monster.

A general who would strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. 

I grinned and raised a bloody fist as his eyes met mine, he grinned back raising his poleaxe high, all eyes were on him “WE HAVE WON SO KILL THEM, KILL THEM ALL!” and he swung his blade into the backs of the Empire forces in front of him, my forces screamed back with bloodlust and the fighting began anew, but I already knew from the way the Empire forces carried themselves that we had won.

I left the front of the battle limping on my broken spear making my way to some debris laid out in the center of the room sitting down with some difficulty leaning my back against the box. The wound I had would be fatal given enough time but I trusted Gezel would end the battle swiftly and get me the treatment I needed, if he didnt… well I wouldn’t be around to complain.

As I sat there, clutching my wound and watching the chaos unfold, I couldn't help but feel a 

annoyed as my father appeared in front of me, arms folded into his expensive robes, gold coins covering his eyes. He was taking in the slaughter.

“Can’t you just fuck off.” I sighed.

He chuckled, taking in the bloodshed "Do you think you have won?" he asked, a hint of amusement in his voice.

I glared at him. "I've won, the City is mine."

He raised an eyebrow. "You've proven to have sharper teeth and wits than this wolf, yes, but more will come."

I paused at his words, thinking of the Empire who was setting their eyes west and of the crumbling City. I could hide the new found wealth of artifacts for some time, but not forever, they would come, like vultures to a corpse.

Looking to pick my City clean. A scowl pierced my face "Let them come." I spat, I would have daggers waiting for them.

He shrugged, a smirk tugging at his lips. "Overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer. You'll see soon enough how I prepared-" he was cut off by a dagger I had thrown, my hand trembling with fury, he disappeared into a mist but his mocking laugh echoed in my mind.

I shook my head, feeling my strength leave me. I leaned my head back resting my eyes. I smiled as the exhausting began setting in and darkness began to take me. I had plans for this City and plans for the wolves to come, no one would take this from me. Not some traitor, not the vultures and not the Empire. No one.

I am Merchant Queen Ulgar, leader of the City and my foes will fear my name.


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