Trial by Fire

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Act 3: The Enemy of My Enemy is My...

Before his company had entered, Cassius, the de facto leader of Eromosa, had already made up his mind. His private chambers were lavishly decorated with an assortment of sigils, paintings, and scriptures. It was possibly the most unironic assortment given that Cassius often indulged in similar pursuits as many humans. He was the most elderly erodesean in existence. Powerful though he was, his true strength was his gift of life. His connection to the spirits allowed him to peer deep into the souls of those who would otherwise be lost to history. As a result, Cassius went from reading books, to reading the spirits. His capture of knowledge was ever expansive and his ideology of life over death was pervasive in his teachings and leadership.

This put him in direct opposition to both Rema and Nami.

Sitting in a living chair he stared up from a scripture he was writing at his door. He knew who was coming and when. Before they could knock, his high pitched voice ushered his guests in.

“Come in, please.”

Winter, Yule, and Sera entered the room, all with the grace of those highest in the circle. They stood a massive nine feet tall and separated themselves six feet from Cassius’s chair with Winter on the right, Yule in the middle, and Sera on the left. Yule was the first to speak.

“Grand Father, we do not come bearing good news.”

Cassius set his scripture on the floor and looked at Yule with sharp green eyes.

“Do you know why I do not have a desk, Yule?”

Yule shook her head.

“No.”

Cassius nodded as if he already knew she would not answer.

“You are always one to give up before you fail, it is the only reason why Tulip-”

Yule interrupted Cassius abruptly, with a slight smile on her face.

“Tulip is dead.”

Cassius’s eyes lit bright orange.

“She is? How, and by whom?”

Yule nodded to Winter.

“Grand Father, she sacrificed herself to the two rogue chosen, Onyx and Nike.”

Winter held his hand out and produced an apparition. He clearly did not have the best of views as the ghost like images flitted in and out. What was clear was that Tulip turned to ash and shortly after a human held her heart to two erodeseans, one massive the other much smaller. Then, suddenly, the large one snatched the heart and immediately started wailing as both the human and smaller Rema retreated to a safe distance.

“This is remarkable.” Cassius marveled at the sight of Onyx consuming Tulip’s heart.

Cassius’s demeanor went from curious to concerned as he shook his head.

“I will assume she had this planned. She must have brought her most trusted circle with her.”

Yule nodded.

“Yes, it is as you say. Sera and Winter report that Luko, Boreit, and-”

Cassius cut Yule off.

“Let me hear it from their lips.”

Sera finally spoke, xyr voice calm but authoritative.

“Luko and Boreit, along with an elite squad of their scout division were present within King Prius’s Rest. They barreled their way through hundreds of our forward division. There was no tactical way of stopping their advance given the size difference between us and them. This is when we got more dire news from Winter’s spys.”

Winter continued where Sera left off.

“Nemaak had claimed he and his hunters were traveling to the King’s Rest to hunt game for his tribe. He had remarked that it was a great opportunity to help commander Gerald secure the premises. Against my command, Nemaak asked commander Gerald for clearance and appealed to his ignorance. I was of the knowledge Nemaak had withdrawn his hunters but he instead headed straight for the meadow. He had personally devoured over a dozen of Geralds men before the humans fled and regrouped with nearby reinforcements in an adjacent part of the vale. At this time, Nemaak tore King Pirius’s tomb to pieces and upon finding no sign of the heart, he ordered his hunters to wait at his behest.”

Cassius pondered everything that had been said.

“I see. So. The Mad Princess’s gambit succeeded. She had gathered the heart on her own. It makes her illegitimate in completeness. She tarnished her legacy by assassinating Pirius then buried it by stealing his heart. His old soul may never find rest.”

Cassius trailed off before continuing.

“Why did Nemaak not attack Tulip outright? She is a horrendous foe indeed, but Nemaak could have pounced on them earlier with the aid of his hunters.”

Sera spoke.

“It was the forward division, under my command we distracted the beast long enough to delay him from acting.”

Cassius looked at Sera with incredulity.

“By the Grand Tree. Nemaak and his band of merry goons is no match for our combined might, but the Rema have an entire fortress brimming with a warrior caste eager for a true leader. If Nemaak coveted the heart, who would care? He would take his group of barbaric flesh eaters out towards the badlands and kill humans for thousands of years to come. Explain yourself.”

Sera, who was thick barked, medium build, and spotted with grey and black dots stood firm.

“I made a split second decision that I thought was sound. At Thrax’s command, humans are currently buried within the forward division. They want eyes and ears like we do. If I were to call off an attack on Nemaak, humans would inevitably share these results with Thrax. They would call us soft, unworthy allies, or worse, sympathetic to human eaters and our great foe. I chose to protect the alliance over some runty growthlings acquiring ancient power.”

Cassius, who stood an imposing twelve feet, took one step towards Sera and bent down as he spoke in whispers.

“Your reasoning is sound but if you don’t take the base out of your voice I’ll personally remove one of your spirits.”

Cassius returned to his seat and shook his head.

“I have already made a decision.”

A human of average height knocked on the open door to Cassius’s chambers.

The trio looked back at him with a glare. There was no love lost between them.

Cassius invited Thrax in with a finger. As he neared the trio he tipped his plumed hat while giving his greetings.

“Ah, ladies and gentlemen, how are we today?” He said, but unknowingly stared at Sera too hard. Xe noticed.

“You don’t have to wonder, bag of flesh. It is beyond your comprehension.”

Thrax nodded and bowed sarcastically in Sera’s direction.

“Ah, and I do not seek to understand, thank you.”

Cassius ignored the exchange with an indifferent expression on his gnarled wooden face. He motioned for the trio to split and allow Thrax the floor. Thrax strode with confidence towards Cassius then displayed a clear apparition.

“As I had shown Cassius earlier, the consequences of our actions are clear.”

The apparition spiralled into mist then formed into a scene of destruction. Over one hundred Nami laid on the ground, not one alive. None had fled, none had the chance. The sole survivor stood drenched in sap, red eyes searing through the liquid. This was the slayer and new Xueen, Nike.

The trio looked at the apparition with hate. Sera’s lip twitched as xe saw Nike’s devastation. Winter just seemed generally disgusted. Though, there was one oddity. It seemed that Yule could not stop looking at the ashes of Tulip. Her stare was a mix of disdain, sorrow, and pain. Cassius saw this and cleared the apparition with a swipe of his hand. He nodded towards Thrax to display the next.

“And this, this is the mad titan, Onyx.”

As nike faced certain doom while in the clutches of Nemaak, Onyx burst out of his hole and struck him hard enough to break the bark off of his arm. He was armored head to toe in a silvery metal that followed a unique pattern in his body. He had grown in height, now thirteen feet and rivaled the size and ferocity of Nemaak, blow for blow. Again, Cassius swiped the image.

Cassius stood and addressed the four in front of him.

“I have called you all to this meeting to issue everyone a warning.”

Thrax narrowed his gaze towards Cassius while the trio stood tall without expression.

“Two of them, actually. These two erodeseans, Onyx, and Nike. They are more than a problem, they are a curse. They bring death, the antithesis of the end-times. You see their hunger and lust for war? That is because they were fated to be. Believe the tales of an old erodesean or not, human or otherwise. But I will tell you this, there was a time when I was but a growthling that legends still walked this land. Your human ignorance will kill you, Thrax, but no sooner than the idea of Lunu superiority will kill the best of our line. The disease isn’t gone with the death of the Rema, it is only begun. Thrax, stay, the rest of you, join the assault on Glyph, raze the city and retreat back to the forest. We plan to send a message to all who oppose us. The tribes are watching.”

The trio left with haste as Thrax built himself a chair out of iron and stared at Cassius with curiosity. Cassius stood over the smirking human.

“You plan to lose the same battle my people have waged for years. Ignorance. Even now, you smile at a being you believe to be beneath your recognition. Your people marvel at our ability to speak, act intelligently, and make casual conversation using your language. It is a marvel because you see us as rabid animals that eat humans by the bunch. But worse, the smirk on your face means that you feel we need you. As if your technology chains us to your will.”

Thrax shrugged.

“Well, Sir, I can say a lot of what you claim is true. But see, you are doing yourself a great service by showing us humans that you aren’t the others, those zombies. It was a mistake attacking your villages and for that we have apologized. What is the problem and Sir, am I being arrested?”

Cassius leaned down low enough so his head blocked Thrax’s ability to get up from his chair.

“The problem is you think we are different from them. At any moment I could order your men to be mulched to a paste, grinded into powder, and poured into soup. We could bring down a nightmare of slavery and pain upon your men the likes of which you could not fathom. We could shred your spirits and splinter your fragile souls. From now on you and your men will respect my kin and my foes or I swear, on this very tree you rest your ape-stink on I will slaughter and torture every single one of you. I will make your defeat generations ago a pleasant pastime. You will take your pit rusted pig iron and order every single one of your men clean this forest spotless of your ilk. Dismissed.”

Thrax adjusted his plumed hat, stood, and disintegrated the chair he was sitting in. He looked Cassius in his green eyes, a look of fear on his face.

“I will relay this message to General Cassador at once, thank you.”

He bowed then set off, never looking back.

Cassius returned to his seat and continued to write his scripture. Slashing his pen as he wrote, the document read:

Life is the most precious gift that has been given to the living. So envious are the non-living that they berate us constantly with acclimate weather, natural disasters, and calamities unforeseen. Life, then, is also opposed to death. For those who are seekers and bringers of death want nothing but destruction, even so, they harbor life. We should eliminate these false life bringers at all costs and use their spirits to further the Grand Tree’s prophecy. It is then not enough that we are living, but rather living for life. Any one, any being opposed to life is therefore an agent of death, no better than water that drowns and quakes beneath the earth that swallow our souls. Strike out against this disease and together we will eliminate the bearers of death and-

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