Fluidly and as lithe as a cat, Valentine countered the man’s sword with his own, disarmed him, and ran it through the man’s body. The soldier fell to the ground, taking his last breaths. Valentine surveyed the sight before him. The whole city of Ozean was in flames. Smoke filled the air and ash settled on the ground. People ran in every direction, scrambling to get away from the fire. A smile crept upon his lips. He watched the flames flicker, the people run, and the smoke rise.
Only one more thing left before this city is complete, he commented inwardly.
He sheathed his sword to the scabbard on his back. His sleeveless black and golden armor provided a sturdy protection for him against any blade, not that he didn’t need much protection. Valentine just thought he looked very intimidating in those colors. It matched his black, side-swept hair. The only real color he had was his slightly tanned skin and misty green eyes. His eyes were the one feature that Valentine hated the most. The color was too soft, too subtle. He wished that it would was something deeper and brighter. Of course, he could change it with a little magic, but he preferred to be as natural as he could be.
He slowly brought his hands up from his sides. Magic coursed through him. He was merely a vessel holding magic as it did his bidding. A wall of darkness spread across the sky like a wave rising in the ocean; except, it wasn’t cloud, or wave of water, or even smoke. The whole sky was turned black, as if it was night but with no moon or stars.
Now they will see…this is what living in the Finsternis Stürzen is like. This is the sky I see every day. This was the nightmare I awoke to a decade ago.
Valentine flung his hand towards five homes all in a row. They all burst into flame. Hoards of the city’s residents fled from the burning wreckage of homes made of fine cedar and oak wood, of straw roofs—all of which was flammable. He watched them, almost with glee. Until—
He saw a family struggling to stay together and safe. The father—with graying hair and merchant’s clothes—trying to keep their little girl away from the flames and the mother—clearly exhausted and worn—trying help her other three daughters and son keep moving and not breathe in the smoke. One daughter, who looked like about eighteen years old with tangled blonde hair, looked back at one charred mess of a home with tears in her eyes. Those watery eyes connected with Valentine’s. A couple looks crossed her face. At first, she looked utterly terrified of him. Then she looked like she wanted to tear him apart. But fear always came back on her face.
How should he respond? For one moment in his life, Valentine didn’t know how to respond. He tried to keep the already cold look on his face but it kept faltering. The girl tore her eyes away and ran faster—faster than some of her family. And Valentine felt a pinprick of hurt.
Nebel Manor was a reasonably sized estate. It had a main manor as black as ink with bits of gold. Valentine liked the endless corridors, hallways, and rooms that it had. It was a maze of finery that only he knew how to navigate through.
Other than the actual manor, there was only a stable for horses for his guards. All of his guards were men who owed him a debt. These men had either made a deal with him, had unwisely trespassed, or tried to steal from him. Now they were bound with magic to serve him.
Valentine transported himself to his “parlor.” But if he was honest with himself, it was really a throne room. It was all beige colored walls with a dark-metal throne that seemed to be fused with the wall. Only a few other small items and furniture were in the massive room. A golden chandelier hung from the tall ceiling.
He paced in front of his obsidian chair. A question tugged at his mind that had formed once he had finished destroying Ozean.
Why hadn’t Emperor Benedict tried to stop him? Was he blind to what Valentine was doing?
Valentine had destroyed five cities in the past week. The Emperor had not taken any action. With a wave of his hand at his swords and curved blades on him, they disappeared back to his personal armory.
“Your Imperial Majesty, we’ve received reports from…what’s left of the city of Ozean.”
Weary, Emperor Benedict looked up at the young messenger before him, already knowing what he would say. “The city is in ashes, Your Majesty.”
Benedict closed his ocean blue eyes, dipping his head. He fiddled with his fingers in worry.
“Thank you, Sir Osife. You may return to your post,” the Emperor said slowly.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Sir Osife bowed and left. Silence enveloped the room. His advisors and nobles shifted anxiously. Benedict knew what they were thinking and what they wanted to say to him. He ruffled his aging blonde hair.
“What is he doing? What does he want? What is he trying to tell me?” He thought out loud.
“That you’re a fool to ignore what is happening.”
All heads, all eyes, and all ears turned to the back of the room. Valentine leaned against a wall, arms folded, glaring at the Emperor. He was dressed in his black and gold battle attire.
“Valentine—“ Emperor Benedict warned.
“I’m happy to destroy all of Dunstorria. But if you were a good little emperor--” Valentine paused and flexed his hand. A royal guard collapsed, choking on his own blood. “You would stop me.”
A wave of terrified murmurs rolled through the room.
“You don’t have to destroy anything if it is attention you want.”
Valentine smirked. The Emperor heard an edge of panic in his own voice. Why did Valentine resort to killing to make a point?
“I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t want attention—I want you, your kingdom, your world, to see what I’ve seen and feel what I’ve felt.”
“That is not your only reason.” Emperor Benedict glared at him. “You want the people’s fear, my court’s fear, and my fear. You want us all to be afraid of you. You are angry that we aren’t.”
Valentine tried to give nothing away. But the Emperor knew that his words had described a small part of it perfectly. It was unnerving Valentine. “I’m a Mastermind too, Valentine. I hope you haven’t forgotten what of.”
“History,” Valentine answered, rolling his eyes.
The Emperor narrowed his eyes as Valentine stood boldly. “Someday, history will break you. History will be what kills you.”
“Are you predicting this?”
“Not only am I foreseeing it… I’m going be a part of it.”
Valentine vanished in a puff of black smoke.
A few days later, Valentine paced back in his parlor again, feeling victorious. Soon, Emperor Benedict would fall. And it would be by the thing he was an expert of: History.
Valentine turned around. One of his guards hesitantly stepped forward. “A man has asked to speak with you.”
“Where is he?” He eyed his guard.
“He is waiting outside the gates, my lord.”
Valentine tilted his head, thinking.
“Bring him in.”
The guard bowed and left the parlor with three guards.
Meanwhile, Valentine waved his hand over himself. A cloud of black smoke swirled around him. His black and golden armor had vanished and in its place was a long, coarsely made cape that fell to the floor, a long-sleeved tunic and trousers made of black scales, and boots.
Valentine liked to stand out, especially in all his rooms where the walls were light colors.
He was a stark contrast. He walked over and sat on his “throne,” crossing his legs, and was ready and eager to see what this man wanted from him.
Presently, the four guards arrived, escorting their guest. Valentine furrowed his brow for a second. The man before him was the same, blonde and gray-haired father he saw in Ozean.
I wonder how he got into the Finsternis Stürtzen…
He noticed the shackles on the elderly man’s hands. He must be a convicted criminal, forced to fend for himself in the Dark Lands. Valentine stared at him. The old man was looking at the floor, as if he dared not to look at him. He didn’t look quite as old up close.
“What’s your name?” Valentine asked, causing the man to finally meet his gaze.
The elderly man stiffened.
“Cornelius. My lord,” he added.
“And what did you do to be banished to the Finsternis Stürtzen, Cornelius?”
Cornelius seemed to relax a little. His shoulders slumped.
“I was a merchant. All of my goods were destroyed. I had no way to pay for the damage and my debt was extreme. So I was banished here while my family stayed in prison.”
The bitterness in voice wasn’t subtle. It seemed that in Cornelius’ mind, he was to blame for destroying Ozean and therefore ruining Cornelius’ life.
“Why’d you come to me?” Valentine had guessed the answer but he wanted to be sure.
“I thought you would be able to help me, my lord. Seeing as, you’re the only living, powerful person to go to in these lands.” Cornelius stared at the polish floor again, fidgeting with his shackles.
Valentine looked at him for a moment. Then he waved his hand and Cornelius’ shackles fell off. Cornelius rubbed his wrists, which were red from the chains. He opened his mouth to speak but Valentine cut him off.
“I can give you a small estate I have east of here and…I can bring your family here to live in it with you,” Valentine offered.
Cornelius’ eyes filled with relief and joy.
“Thank you, my lord. I’m in your debt.”
“Yes, you are. Nothing will be given to you without a price.”
Cornelius’ expression faded. Valentine smirked. “You’re that naïve?”
“Yes, my lord—I mean, no, my lord. I—“
Valentine flicked his wrist. Cornelius flew back against one of the walls with a resounding smack, pinned there by an invisible force. Valentine’s footsteps echoed throughout the room as he marched towards Cornelius. He could tell that Cornelius was using every ounce of willpower to not cower or whimper.
“Spare me the formalities. You either take my offer or leave. It’s the estate and your family… for one of your daughters.”
“NO! Please—AH!” Valentine was rubbing his fingers together, giving Cornelius a piercing headache. Cornelius writhed in his magical bonds. “I will not give you any of my children!”
“Then I’ll take one myself. Or you could give one up willingly. Unless you give me a no.” He stopped rubbing his fingers and Cornelius’ body slumped in his magic’s grip. “Answer me.”
Cornelius didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then he took a choked breath.
“Yes… I’ll take it.”
Valentine released him and he crumpled to the floor. Valentine snapped his fingers and a piece of parchment appeared in front of Cornelius.
“That is your guide to your new home. Your wife and children will be waiting for you when you arrive.”
Cornelius took the paper and pushed himself up to stand, unconsciously backing away. “And, I will come to collect my payment in two days.”
Cornelius ran from the room without another word.