There are ants in my Lucky Green Boots Circulation: 197,496,222 Issue: 986 | 30th day of Relaxing, Y25
Home | Archives Articles | Editorial | Short Stories | Comics | New Series | Continued Series
 

From Kass' Right Hand: the Dark Days


by parody_ham

--------

Author’s note: this story is a follow-up to “From Kass’ Right Hand: Early Days”.

     The years leading up to the second war passed in flashes. Fragments. A whirlwind of time whipped by before anyone could blink. One minute, we were leaderless. Chaos reigned. Fear spread through the streets faster than any disease could. But then, Kass came to us like a shining beacon. We were renewed. Reborn. Cheers of huzzah followed his every speech. Never was I prouder to support such a noble Eyrie in his quest to unite our broken land. My Uncle Kass had, without a doubt, proven himself time and time again. There could be no better alternative, no better option for the Citadel during our greatest hour of need.

     But change did not come without its challenges.

     We instated a curfew to maintain order. Guards lined the streets at night for civilian safety. Few could doubt that crime had plummeted since Kass’ reign began. The economy prospered. My family’s business found new customers in the growing middle class. Morale, once as low as the dungeons, now soared higher than our tallest towers. Our Citadel was finally strong again, finally proud of our identity. I saw former beggars holding their own as carpenters, chefs, bladesmiths—anything that would help support the Citadel on its path to greatness.

     Unfortunately, there were those who disagreed.

     As Vice-captain of the Guard, I dealt with many of them. Some went peacefully after a stern talking to. Some changed their tune after time in the dungeons. Others needed a deft touch, a letter sent directly from their Lord expressing his displeasure. Few managed a squeak of dissent after. And yet others… well. Sometimes more extreme measures needed to be taken. It was for the good of the people that they faced consequences for their actions. We did not—could not—slide backwards. There was too much at stake.

     Things were running smoothly. We had structure back in our lives. My spouse took care of the estate with my mother while he crafted up a storm. Skjold loves his doilies, especially ones with little hearts inside. He made twenty for my mother after my father passed, lovingly adding the family crest into his design. Mother framed her favourite one and hung it over the mantle. And when he could, Skjold instructed children of all ages in the matters of arts and fine dining—they adored him, and he them. And few things made me happier than seeing my darling’s joy.

     Even during those dark days, we found joy in the simple things, in the meals we ate and the sunsets we watched together. For nothing is more important than family—than a strong bond of love. It is worth its weight in the finest metals and jewels. And it is for them, for the future generations of Von Norwegians yet to come, that I have fought for with every ounce of my being.

     Looking back, I loved my position. I loved serving my nation under Kass despite the challenges, the hard times. And there were hard times, to be sure.

     Some of my worst days involved former lieutenant Dorian. The intriguer. The one who used his position to protect his friends from facing justice. Who hid evidence, destroyed it, even, so that they could continue undermining his Lordship’s rise to power… just the thought of boils my blood.

     Scouts discovered him while combing the wilds north of Meridell.

     He was not alone.

     There were two others with him, a red Usul dressed in a patchwork dress and red shawl… and a baby. An Eyrie with icy blue eyes that matched its mother’s. They called it… Setarian. But the bulk of us—Lord Kass especially—called it the “half-thing.” Its mother vehemently denied being Meridellian—spouted some nonsense about being from the Haunted Woods—but we knew better. Such were the words of a Neopian trying to escape.

     Despite his history of resistance before, his slander and insubordination, Kass saw fit to give Dorian a second chance. The traitor was offered an ultimatum: serve Lord Kass with dignity or perish along with his family. He did his duty for a while, faithfully fulfilling every request without a shred of resistance. Lord Kass appeared content, even more so that the Meridellian Usul, Mariana, could prove useful in the palace kitchens. And so it went, for a while. Little surprise when the Darigan pox caught up with her; the Eyrie, being half-Darigan, survived, albeit barely.

     The last report I received on the matter tugged at my heartstrings, if just a little. Mariana’s last duty, per the report I received, was to leave the toddler with the Matron at “The Children of Kass” orphanage. When I heard the news, I figured that was that. It would prove useful in the fields, at least. Maybe even as a half-decent servant of a noble house. Such a fate would prove kindly to a Neopian such as it. But then…

     “Vice-captain, Sir! Lord Kass has asked for your presence immediately.”

     They paraded Dorian before me in chains. Given the rough shape of the ones who caught him, he had put up quite a fight. … But there was another behind him, a Scorchio in a plain dress and messy hair. She looked as though she had been dragged there.

     A haggard Kyrii guard who looked one step from collapse gestured to the prisoners. We offered him a chair and he sat without hesitation.

     “What happened?” I recall saying it through gritted beak. All the while, Dorian glared at me with defiance. It took every bit of my willpower not to shut that down then and there.

      “Vice-captain, Sir…” he coughed a few times and caught his breath before continuing. One of the other guards handed him a glass of water, which he glugged down instantly. “We apprehended Lieutenant Dorian and…” he gestured forward to the crestfallen prisoner. “The Scorchio is a cook named Della… she tried to smuggle the half-thing with him… out of the Citadel.”

     Lord Kass was not pleased.

     After graciously giving Dorian a second chance, he squandered it. Spat in the face of Kass’ mercy. It left a tightness in my chest that I could only attribute to anger. Hurt. Betrayal.

      I was the one who led Dorian to the ledge where we carried out our justice. His chains rattled like quaking skeletons as his stoneface gaze looked over the horizon towards the setting sun.

     “State your last words.” It was Lord Kass. He always allowed the prisoners one last chance to repent.

     “I regret…” he began.

     For the first time since he was caught, Dorian’s mask crumbled.

     “I regret that I will not see my child grow up,” his voice cracked as he turned his gaze up to Lord Kass. “… And I regret being caught by the madman I once considered an ally, a friend.”

     Lord Kass gave Dorian a solid kick in the gut, sending him reeling. He then whispered something into Dorian’s ear that made the traitor’s eyes go wide.

     “No…” he mouthed, tears finally lining his ears. “You can’t! You… you wouldn’t…”

     “Think of it as mercy for an innocent soul.” Kass let out a huff. “I could just as easily give it the same fate as you.”

     It was then that Dorian pounded his fist to the ground and hung his head in defeat. He knew what came next. And come next it did. As it did for the others before him.

     ~x~

     Time passed.

     When I heard that Lord Kass had taken an interest in the half-thing, this “Setarian,” I questioned him. Given our familiar relationship, he gave me more attention than most, but on this, he would not budge.

     “His father did everything he could to escape with his half-thing son.” There was a casual tone to my Lord’s voice, a winning smirk. He could have been speaking about the weather. “What better way to score ultimate victory than to make him into my puppet?”

     His puppet. For some strange reason, I felt a chill down my spine. There needn’t be a reason for it—the boy was a tool for his use—but just the way he said it… no. My mind was overthinking something hardly worth the thought. I, after all, thought it would be better used serving the Citadel in some menial way…

     Still, I shook my head. “Wouldn’t it be better to use the resources towards—”

     “The boy shows promise. He’s desperate to please and craves validation. Why not make him work for it?” When Kass laughed, the fur on my neck stood up. Funny, really. Perhaps it was a chill in the air. “With some time, he’ll believe everything I say.”

     After thinking twice about challenging him again, I bowed. “As you say, my Lord.”

     And so it was that this child received personal instruction. Once in a while, Uncle would saddle me with the task. Whenever I dealt with young Setarian, he was always serious. Barely spoke a word. His eyes—the frightful blue orbs they were—looked hungry for any knowledge he could glean. Perhaps he knew as well as I that this was his one chance to rise above his pitiful station. His one chance to make something of himself. When he was not tied to his orphanage duties, I saw him practising alone on the training grounds. With some twists in my gut, I realized that I was starting to have some respect for the boy. Some. But this was not enough to justify him a position of power. I was far from the only official who barked against his military appointment. Even more, frothed at the mouth when Lord Kass saw to it to grant him a high title.

     Lord Kass shut them all down.

     “Silence!”

     His booming voice echoed across the council room. No one dared to dissent after that. We knew the consequences.

     The day Setarian became a General, I remember well. Unusually sunny for the Citadel, with a calm wind. Utterly unheard of in our gloomy, sky-bound domain.

     The day Lord Kass awarded the boy his ceremonial robe, there was a taste of bile in my mouth. A fiery rage deep within my soul. To think someone like him should be leading troops—should be representing our nation. It made me so mad. Part of me instinctively knew why he received the honour, and then another part of me wondered how on Neopia it was fair.

     But before history judges me too harshly, know that my opinion on the matter was hardly the minority. Setarian’s rapid rise through the ranks made him arrogant, Snorkle-headed, and dare I say it—cruel. He was quick to punish, delighted in destruction, and enjoyed every second that he could lord over someone else. Many of his soldiers had the good sense to fear him. They knew full well what could happen if he smelled their willfulness. Darigans with half a brain knew to avoid him unless absolutely necessary. We all knew about Lord Kass’ pet. None of us wished to stand in the crossfire—even me. And so, I watched from afar, seething all the while.

     And as hard as it was for me to admit it, even my Uncle Kass had changed. He lost the sparkle of kindness in his smile, the warmth in his voice, and that jolly laugh when he spent time with his friends. No longer did he seem satisfied with his lot. There was this wild gleam in his eye—I could have sworn I saw the reflection of three shadows behind every blink… But no. No, that was just a trick of the light. I’m certain of it.

     The Lordship changed him. I surmise it was the pressure that drove him to such lengths. Even Mother lamented that he seemed so much colder when he last stopped by, as he only spoke about what she could do to further his ambitions.

     “He didn’t even mention your father…” there was a goblet in her right hand that she swirled as if it could turn the wheels of her confused mind. “They were such close friends; I don’t understand why he’s been like this lately…”

     Skjold comforted Mother after the meeting, holding her shaking frame and finding ways to keep her steady. He was such a rock for our family in these times—I don’t know what I would have done without him…

     About two-thirds into the second war, my other sister Diamant had been named the official recorder of the Citadel’s council meetings—Kass attended every single one. This had not always been the case. Before, in the early days, he let others have their say, but as time progressed… everything had to funnel through him. It was almost as if he dared not trust any of the other voices around him.

     “He’s so motivated by revenge that everything’s tainted by it. All of his policies, all of his decisions…” She sighed loudly, breaching etiquette by dropping her chin to the drawing-room table. “I miss Uncle Kass…’” She gave me a long look with her big, sad eyes. “Do you think he’ll ever come back to us? The way he was, I mean.”

     I shook my head, unsure of how best to placate her concerns. “Who knows, Sister. Perhaps if we win this war, he will find some peace.”

     There was no peace to be found.

     Perle had been commissioned to decorate a jewelled sword—perhaps her most elegant piece yet. It was her pride and joy and we all applauded her for her success… all but Lord Kass.

     “This will do.”

     That was all he said regarding the matter.

     “He’s never wanted so much so quickly.” Of course, Perle knew to keep such conversations between family members only. Those days, who was to say if an informant was around to ferry your thoughts directly to his Lordship’s desk. Even some of our servants could be working for him, being his eyes and ears, and we would have no idea. Her voice dropped to a whisper as she bent towards my ear. “Do you… do you think his greed can ever be satiated?”

     I did not know. But even then, I still stood by him. Who else could stand the pressure of leadership in a nation at war? I harbour a guess at any Neopian who wouldn’t change under such conditions.

     Perhaps my loyalty is what led him to name me “Captain of the Guard.” I would have hoped it was my ability with a spear, my quickness and battle sense, but he said none of that. Only, “You will serve as my Captain and monitor the guards. You will be stationed in front of my quarters at night to protect me from intruders. I will call upon you if you are needed.” He turned away with nary another word.

     Everything seemed to agitate Uncle somehow. Nothing but the full destruction of Meridell could satisfy his desire. Even my husband expressed concern, begging me to “take care” when guarding him lest he turn on me next. But he would never… would he? No, no. He cared about us, about my family. We would never be in danger.

     Right?

     My sister’s question haunted me once again: “When is Uncle Kass coming back?”

     But there was no answer. Not during the Citadel’s darkest days.

     We had to survive this war, to come out from it on the other side with a victory. Then, only then, could we see a brighter tomorrow.

     The End.

 
Search the Neopian Times




Great stories!


---------

Silver Dollar, Golden Beetle?
"The finest coins in all of Neopia"

by leighlizzzie

---------

Novas: Why They Should Be Neopia's Next Petpet
In good times and bad, the humble Nova has floated by our side. What better way to reward their loyalty than making them Neopia's next Petpet!

by pikapi20

---------

Camping gone wrong!
Don't forget the flint! Collab with eiligr

by mgrytsay

---------

Faerieland: A Dozen Years After Xandra
"It has been a little over twelve years since Xandra crashed Faerieland into Neopia..."

by black_skull725



Submit your stories, articles, and comics using the new submission form.