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Civil War

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Civil War is the seventeenth quest zone, and part one of Civil War (Story Volume). It is automatically unlocked for all players. It is the first zone to be released after the reboot. Defeat General Berund on Normal difficulty to unlock Kingdom Aflame.

EnemiesEdit

Wandering Edit

EncountersEdit

WalkthroughEdit

Z17 background
Civil War
Civil War
Interactive Map
Interactive Map

Normal Encounters
Boss Encounters
Optional Boss Encounters
Final Boss


Defeat Blue Dragon 4 to unlock Lady Macar.

Defeat Blue Dragon 6 to unlock Dr. Dreisch.

Defeat General Berud in Blue Dragon 8 to Unlock General Rothbert.

Defeat Bartleby in normal Eclectic Dreams to unlock Bartleby.

Defeat Zombie Riot in hard Eclectic Dreams to unlock Zombie Riot.

Defeat Toy Shop Workers in nightmare Eclectic Dreams to unlock Toy Shop Workers.

Notable LootEdit

Crafting

  • Common Craft: Silas's Blade ==> Silas the Undying
    • Brown Silas's Blade comes from any Silas Ambush Encounter and Marshal Anya (hard difficulty).
    • Grey Silas's Blade comes from Silas the Undying 1 (normal difficulty).
    • Green Silas's Blade comes from Silas the Undying 2 (hard difficulty).
    • Blue Silas's Blade comes from Silas the Undying 3 (nightmare difficulty) and Marshal Anya (normal difficulty).
    • Purple and Orange Silas's Blade come from any Civil War quest nodes.
  • Flaming Swords ==> Fury of the Flame God
    • THESE PIECES DROP RANDOMLY ON ANY DIFFICULTY in the places noted below **
    • Brown Flaming Swords drop from Wandering Monsters
    • Grey, Green and Blue Flaming Swords drop from Blue Dragon Nodes
    • Purple and Orange  Flaming Swords drop only from General Berund
  • Dido's Armor ==> Impromptu Volcano
    • THESE PIECES DROP RANDOMLY ON ANY DIFFICULTY in the places noted below **
    • Brown, Grey, Green, and Blue Dido's Armor drops from Gold Dragon Nodes
    • Purple and Orange Dido's Armor drops only from Dido Celwyr Bloodwyn

Boss Card Reward

Random Drops Edit

Additionally, it has been noted that this zone also drops the following cards from assorted nodes:

TranscriptEdit

As soon as the people on the platform started talking about honor, patriotism, and duty, Nevis started walking in the opposite direction. He didn't hurry. That might have attracted attention, drawn their gazes. And he knew what could happen to anyone who did that. Conscription. So he was slow and calm as he went through the crowd, eyes downcast lest they meet a stray glance.

"West Kruna needs you!" one of the armored women said.

For an instant Nevis froze. So did his lungs and heart, depriving him of blood and breath. In that terrible moment he was certain the words had been directed at him -- an icy javelin hurled at his back. His eyes flicked this way and that, expecting transfixing stares, pursed lips, condemning faces. But no one was watching him. He started moving again.

"The kingdom needs people brave enough to fight for her!"

The stage she and her comrades stood on was the sole elevated point in the village square save for the encircling rooftops. Hence it was used for all announcements, edicts, weddings, puppet shows, bardic performances, and anything else where the speaker or participants wanted to be seen as well as heard. But it served another purpose at times, albeit infrequently. It was where the village hanged its criminals -- where bandits and murderers danced on air and voided their bowels. Nevis wondered if the woman understood how very appropriate that was. Because her words brought death just like the executioner's noose.

"Will you tell your children and your grandchildren that you hid away and let others do the fighting for you?" a man's deep voice asked. "Or will you say you stood up and did your duty like our ancestors did in the Drake War?"

Young as he was, Nevis knew all that fine talk led to one place: bloody battlefields, where men and women died in the mud. Men like Hadric, the butcher's son. Nevis had been in the square on the day his body came home. Hadric's parents and little sister had stood around the cart, where their son and sibling lay wrapped in a dirty cloth that was stained with grime and worse. They untied the knots and pulled the fabric aside bit by bit until his lifeless face looked up at the sky. Then his mother and sister bawled, while both tears and pride glistened in the butcher's eyes. Nightmares spawned on that day still tormented Nevis whenever slumber stole his mind. He'd dream it was his birthday, or the winter festival, and would unwrap a lavish present only to reveal Hadric's cold dead eyes staring up at him.

Nevis moved through the other villagers, nudging his way between them. He winced when his elbow struck Mecan the baker's flabby gut and evoked a little cry of annoyance. Mecan glared at him. Nevis murmured an apology and tried to escape from the scene without causing further commotion -- but ended up bumping into the blacksmith's iron-hard muscles instead. He cursed himself for coming into the square in the first place, and he cursed Hetti for knocking on his door. She'd seen the swiftest of the riders in the distance and believed the horseman was bringing news of the war. That had been enough to send Nevis running along with everyone else in the village. For little as he wished to visit those gory fields, he yearned to know what transpired there. They were deciding his fate amidst the clashing steel and gushing wounds. All their fates.

By the time he'd learned the truth, knew that the visitors had come to recruit instead of report, he was lodged in a sea of perspiring flesh.

"You're a strapping lad," said the woman on the stage. This time Nevis knew full well the words weren't intended for him. Not even his doting mother had been so generous as to call his scrawny frame strapping.

"Thanks!" Garmin, the blacksmith's boy, replied. A little laughter rippled through the crowd.

"A big strong man like you should be out there fighting. Do you know how to swing a sword?"

"Aye," an older, deeper voice answered. It was a low rumble like the beginnings of thunder. Nevis groaned and tried to conceal himself behind the speaker's stocky, muscular body. "And he knows how to make them too. So if you want the weapons to keep coming, you'll leave him here in my forge."

"Of course, blacksmith. I meant no disrespect. Every sword and spear you make help us in battle -- and we thank you for it."

The smith grunted.

"How about you?" the woman asked.

"Me?" a young female voice said.

It was Hetti, and Nevis managed a faint smile in spite of it all. She was safe enough. But it died on his lips a second later. Last time the recruiters came, they didn't call on the women -- only the men. Perhaps things were desperate. And once again that word flashed into his mind: conscription. Until now they'd always asked for volunteers, but Nevis had heard the rumors that drifted into this sleepy part of the countryside from the towns, ferried by travelers and those merchants who still braved the roads for their livelihood. In places where not enough stepped forward to swear the oath and take up arms, the recruiters resorted to other methods.

"Yes, you. That's a healer's pendant you're wearing, isn't it? A girl like you could save a hundred lives."

"Is there room in your army for a newborn babe?"

"Huh?"

"Because if you took me, you'd have to take this one as well."

Nevis couldn't see her, but from the chuckles he could imagine Hetti opening her cloak to reveal her swollen belly. He took advantage of the distraction and continued on his surreptitious odyssey.

"Hey!" The voice was new, and if the woman's had been an icy javelin, this one was a boulder crashing down on Nevis' head. Because he recognized it.

He cast all caution to the wind and shoved his way through the villagers as fast as he could -- ignoring the exclamations around him. His whirling mind tried to remember the people he'd seen up on the platform. There hadn't been any familiar faces... But hadn't one of the men been wearing a helmet, his visage hidden behind its steel? Nevis swore.

"Hey!" Theadric repeated. "There's one for us!"

Theadric... A hundred remembered bumps and bruises ached across Nevis' body. Everyone was staring at him now, staring and judging. Gertrude, the ancient spinster, pierced him with gimlet eyes. Her angular beak sniffed and crinkled as though assailed by an unpleasant smell. Nobbie the farrier shook his head and looked at him with sympathy, then the gnome shifted aside to let Nevis pass. A pair of burly farmhands did the same -- though one spat on the ground in front of him. Hadric's father was at the very edge of the crowd. The man's gaze stopped Nevis in his tracks and held him for a long moment, while the youth almost cringed. The dark eyes and set jaw were inscrutable -- shrouding whatever pity, hatred, or nonchalance revolved in his mind. But at last he looked away and freed the boy.

"Nevis!" Theadric said. "Oi!"

Nevis ran.

Behind him the crowd erupted in an incoherent babble, a tempestuous, off-key chorus. There was anger and discontent. Nevis didn't know if they were directed at him or the recruiters. Perhaps both. He didn't look round to find out.

"Oi! Stop!"

Those words reached him above all the others and lent strength to his legs. He accelerated, hurtling away from the voice that seemed impossibly, horribly close. The crowd must have parted to let Theadric past... Traitors! For an instant Nevis dreamed of punching each of them in the nose. But pounding footfalls sounded amidst the cacophony, stealing his thoughts. All that mattered was escape.

"Get back here!"

Theadric was faster than him. He'd always been faster, with his strong limbs and powerful lungs. A better runner, a better wrestler, better with the bow, the javelin, and at all the other festival games apart from one. The village's champion athlete till the day he'd left for the city. Nevis couldn't outrun him. Not for long.

He swerved and darted to the right -- where a green face cackled in painted silence above the door of the Ghastly Goblin pub. Nevis hit the wood hard. It jarred his entire body, a massive iron-ribbed fist that seemed to pummel him, shatter every bone on his right side, and splatter his organs to mush. But the portal yielded. He staggered into the dingy tavern, across the creaking floorboards. His hipbone banged against a table's curved edge with a fresh burst of pain. The impact shook the rickety thing and jostled the cluster of tankards that rested on its scarred surface, making their contents slosh. One toppled over the side like a doomed mariner. It clattered on the floor and disgorged its innards in a long stream, splashing Nevis' trousers, assailing his nose with the sharp stale tang of the Goblin's strong cider and drowning his brain in memories.

Theadric's cruel leer... Drunken breath washing over his face... Fists battering his ribs...

There were stairs. A shadowy flight led down into the cellar and another to the chambers above, each promising dozens of dark hiding places where he could disappear -- among the casks of ale and cider, under the beds, inside the wardrobes. Countless temptations. The allure of allies who might draw him into their embrace, shield and conceal him. But all of them were traps. He'd trusted such false friends before, cornered himself like a rat. It almost always ended the same way.

Mocking laughter... A hard, savage grasp on his arm or leg, or his disheveled tuft of hair... Irresistible, agonizing strength yanking him out... Fists... Always fists, brutal, bludgeoning...

Nevis knew better than to hide where there wasn't an escape route. He ran across the taproom instead, towards the small window where lethargic daylight oozed between the trees. Nevis jumped. His scrawny body hurtled through the gap headfirst, right knee clipping the sill with a flare of pain. He hit the ground and rolled in the dirt of a narrow lane, under the oaks' shade -- the dancing light and dark at the edge of the forest, where trees and bushes offered a myriad routes in which he could lose his pursuers.

He scrambled to his feet. And something heavy, hard, fast smashed into him.

His body thudded on the ground again, this time slammed onto it by a powerful weight that shook his bones and crushed the air out of his lungs. Nevis tried to buck, claw, scrabble his way free. But strong, skilled limbs held him down -- hooking his legs, twisting his right arm in a grappler's hold that wrenched his shoulder and elbow. He'd been locked in this maneuver before. Fresh agony flowed into his memories and filled their hollowness like cider pouring into a jug.

"Got him!" Theadric said. He leaned down, till his mouth was by Nevis' ear. His breath was warm and moist, freed from the discarded helmet. The next words were a whisper. "Got you."

Footfalls surged towards them from both ends of the lane, around either side of the Ghastly Goblin, along with a babble of voices. Theadric turned Nevis over and pinned him on his back -- pressing a knee down on the boy's stomach, making his innards lurch. The grinning face that loomed above Nevis was different. Hair a little longer, right cheek marred with a scar. But the cruel eyes and leering jaw were the same, carved from memory and torment. Another face appeared over Theadric's brawny shoulder. It was the woman who'd spoken on the platform. She looked like a schoolmistress, all sharp eyes, severe features, and pursed, unamused lips.

"Look at him," she said. "He's not strong enough to stand in a battle line."

"He's a slinger." Theadric didn't turn his head. His eyes stayed fastened on Nevis, harsh and bright. "A good one. Best in the village."

It was the first compliment his childhood bully had ever paid him, praise turned into a weapon -- wielded as a barbed, poison-dripping blade. And still Theadric's mouth twitched as though uttering it displeased him.

"I've seen him bring down a bear," he continued. This was an utter lie. Nevis tried to speak, but only managed a half-choked splutter.

"Get off him!" Hetti said. Her face rose above Theadric's other shoulder, eyes wide, face red with fear or fury. "He's only fourteen!"

"We've got others who aren't much older," the woman said. She moved to block the pregnant girl, pressing her back with hands that were firm but gentle. "Are his parents here?"

"His mother died last winter..."

Hetti's gaze flicked to meet Nevis' for a fraction of a second, before snapping back to the woman. The redness in her cheeks softened to a flushed pink. She'd tended to his mother in the lady's final days -- and all the young healer's best spells had done nothing but soften the pain of the inevitable. For a week afterwards Hetti barely talked to him, and averted her eyes whenever they met his. The two of them hadn't spoken of it since.

"Father's out on his fishing boat," the blacksmith said. His deep voice came from beyond the circle of sky, trees, the Goblin's dirty rear wall, and hovering faces that made up Nevis' universe. "Won't be back for hours."

"You're sure he's that good?" the armored woman asked.

"Yeah," Theadric said. "And you know we need more archers and slingers."

The woman looked round at the villagers.

"Tell his father he's with us," she said, "and in good hands."

"You can't take him!" Hetti said. "He's just a boy!"

A fresh babble broke out. Other voices lent their weight to hers, speaking out for him, telling Theadric and the other warriors to let him go. In that moment Nevis could have kissed them all. They couldn't take him, not with the village on his side!

"So was my son." The butcher's voice wasn't loud, but it rose amid all the others and silenced every tongue. "He still did his duty."

"But..." Hetti looked off to the side and bit her lip.

Theadric's mouth split open in a broad smile that exposed his teeth and made his grin lupine and predatory. The woman looked down at Nevis. Her own face was softer now, kinder.

"My name's Carolyn," she said. "Welcome to the rebellion, lad."

It was all her fault. All of it.

That thought, bitter knowledge and unassailable accusation, weighed in Captain Ranlatta's mind like stone after the battle at the armory. She wandered through fields sown with slaughter, her smashed jaw a distant agony that might have belonged to another woman. Bloody bodies and bloodier weapons still lay where they'd fallen -- not yet collected into neat rows and piles like an abhorrent merchant's stock. Rent mail and torn purple tabards girded the soldiers' corpses, once resplendent uniforms now only fit to mark out the king's warriors from those who'd slain them. Ranlatta looked into each of their faces. She turned them over with a tender touch, so their lifeless eyes could judge her when she whispered her pleas for forgiveness.

She knew many of them by name. There were men and women-at-arms who'd trained under her command, whom she'd put through the endless drills and marches that made up the bulk of a soldier's life. Carmag, the veteran with steel grey hair, had a dagger stuck in his heart. It was an old weapon, its pommel tarnished and leather grip worn away by the imprint of countless fingers. Some peasant's heirloom perhaps. Maybe from the days of the Drake War, when the kingdom's forges had disgorged wave upon wave of good steel weapons to arm its heroes. Old, but still sturdy enough to rupture mail and flesh. To spill a warrior's blood and end his half-century of life.

Layali was near him, hands and scabbard empty, throat open in a messy gash that had dribbled down her tabard and soaked into the rich purple. Her halberd was gone, perhaps lost in the melee or cast aside when its shaft broke. So was her fine scimitar. Layali had brought that with her when she enlisted, a treasure from her ancestral homeland -- and refused to wield the straight-bladed weapon issued by the quartermaster. There had been a fuss. But when put to the test she'd wielded the curved sword with the sureness of the desert wind and the deadly swiftness of its cobras. No soldier in Ranlatta's unit, and only a handful in General Francis' entire army, could match her in a duel. Thus the captain had insisted she be allowed to keep the weapon. Layali thanked her that night by presenting her with a sweetmeat, a delicious combination of pastry, nuts, and honey that she'd made from an inherited recipe and bartered ingredients. Ranlatta tasted its remembered sweetness in her mouth as she looked down at the gaping redness of the woman's neck. It was like blood, sticky and cloying. She wondered where that scimitar had gone. Maybe lost elsewhere on the field, or else whisked away by thieving hands and added to the vast river of sharp steel that seemed to flow through West Kruna in times of war. Perhaps one day she'd find it embedded in another friend's breast.

The other units had suffered their share of losses too. Unknown faces met her eyes with blank gazes and fatal injuries. Some were old, soldiers whose military careers had spanned many years before hurling them into the meat grinder, sacrifices to Ranlatta's folly and the gleeful gods of war. Others were young. Angelic faces that might have belonged to children, frozen in the shock and horror of first wounds that would also be their last. General Francis himself rested amongst the fallen. A polearm's heavy axe blade split his chest, long shaft rising from the sundered ribcage like a standard stripped of its banner. Francis' warhorse chewed the grass nearby. The stallion cast an occasional glance at his fallen master, as though waiting for him to rise and call for a steed.

Rebel warriors, their enemies in life, mingled with them in death. The captain dwelled on each of these for a moment too. They'd raised arms against men and women in the king's colors. They were traitors, criminals. But she had no scorn left in her heart for those whose lives and sins had drowned together in crimson. Instead she mused over them, imagining the things that had spurred them to war and the families who'd now mourn their violent ends. A big, muscular form lay not far from the general. The man's bare chest was covered in blue war paint, splattered with gore -- a ferocious and intimidating sight even now. She wondered what story lay hidden in his markings. That tale was lost now.

Warriors from the Golden Claw stood around another rebel's corpse. He was a big man too, his own bulk bolstered by the plate panoply he wore, splendid and heavy. He must have been a dangerous foe. But the soldiers weren't reveling over his demise. Their faces were somber as the grave, and tears glistened in more than one eye. A woman looked up at Captain Ranlatta. She almost hissed, and her hands clenched into fists. The captain turned away. Whatever strange scene she'd come upon, it wasn't for her to meddle with.

No, she couldn't bring herself to condemn those who'd already paid the price of their misdeeds in full. Nor did she feel much pity for warriors who'd stormed the armory and killed its defenders. They'd fought the gold dragon, then refused to surrender and face justice. It could only have ended one way. But the others... The civilians... That wasn't battle, it was a massacre. And it was her fault.

"Don't..." she spluttered. Crimson spurted and drowned the word. "...shoot!"

The words, that moment, replayed themselves in her mind again and again. Her mouth opened, launching tendrils of dull, half-felt fire through her head, shaping each syllable as though they could slip through the mists of time and undo what was done. But it was too late. Her tongue had fumbled. It had splashed in blood and wrought horror.

Ranlatta lingered among the peasants' bodies the longest, staring at each of them and committing every face to ephemeral memory. Few wore armor. Those who did were clad in rusty, ill-fitting scraps. Some had tried to improvise their own out of pots and pans. One or two had even fashioned padded doublets by mangling rugs -- cutting out holes for their heads and belting the folds of fabric at their waists.

"Urrgghh..."

The captain looked round.

"Urgghh..."

She stepped between the dead, moving towards the faint groan.

"I'm here!" she tried to say. But her swollen jaw spewed the words out as one long, unintelligible sound.

"Here..."

The movement was slight, almost imperceptible. She wouldn't have noticed it if she hadn't already been scouring the ground. But there it was -- a subtle shifting where two bodies lay in a heap. Ranlatta threw herself down on her knees and pulled them aside.

"You!" the captain said. It emerged as an animal noise, a simian cry.

It was the hefty woman, the one who'd come to the armory brandishing a rusty sword and wearing an apron, trying to ward off weapons of war like splashes from a cooking pot. It hadn't worked. A ghastly wound tore apron and belly alike.

"Healer!" Ranlatta tried to shout.

The jumbled word racked her jaw. But a robed man looked over, and she beckoned him with a frantic wave of her hand. He ran towards her -- springing between the corpses as though navigating stepping stones to cross a stream.

"Ugly cow..." the woman murmured. "Your... Your..."

She coughed, spluttered, and was gone. The healer sighed.

"I should treat your jaw," he said.

Ranlatta tried to refuse, but she didn't have the energy. So he squatted beside her and went to work with glowing hands. The captain's gaze remained on the dead woman's face. Yes, she thought, imagining the unspoken word. Mine.

That guilt festered and grew over the coming days, when the massacre at the armory spread across the kingdom as a rallying cry, sowing the seeds of war.

It was all her fault.

"Roderick! Roderick! Roderick!"

The people chant, filling the clearing with his name, and you lend your voice to the clamor. This used to perturb you. It niggled away inside, an almost physical pain -- boring into your brain, your heart, your stomach. You imagined guilt illuminating your face with a sickly green glow that would reveal your deeds and bring down the retribution of a hundred screaming fanatics. But now there isn't even a twinge. You just do what's necessary. For West Kruna. For the people. For your family's honor. Because the past can't be changed, and dwelling on its rights or wrongs is the road to madness.

"Death to Crenus!" someone shouts.

It's always the same. The same threats, taunts, exhortations, and laments. No matter where you go, spreading your tale of Roderick's death in whichever corners of the kingdom Tessa believes you can rally the most support. Always. But if the words have become rote and lost their meaning, the passion burning in their eyes hasn't. Most of them clutch weapons, knuckles white around shafts and handles as though throttling a foe. Many have brought swords, spears, axes, knives. Some raise flaming torches that throw furious light over everything, lashing the masks of hatred and dark trees that encircle you. Others brandish pitchforks over their heads -- the tools of a peasant revolt, now turned into so much more. The symbol of two dead heroes and one who still draws breath. These people are angry, and anger spreads the fire.

"I'm with you, Kasan!"

The voice comes from somewhere at the back of the crowd, and others echo the sentiment before the final syllable dissipates. You'd expected no less. When a mob's this inflamed, when emotions flow like the blood in their veins and the sweat from their pores, rising up over them as an almost tangible entity that lifts the hairs on their arms and adds strength to their shouts, any cry will be seized upon for at least an instant. The unseen woman could have cried, "I love custard!" and others would've screamed the message at the heavens before realizing their folly. So you hold your breath for long moment. But there's no embarrassing epiphany. The shout continues, finding new throats.

"Kasan!"

"Save the kingdom!"

"For Roderick and the Dragon-Rider!"

You suppress a wince at that coupling. It doesn't matter though. For now you're emerging from the blood of heroes, but your deeds will send your name soaring in good time.

Tessa Tullian catches your eye. She smiles at you, bright and radiant. This is what she wanted -- for them to chant your name and lift weapons at your call. Yet it isn't smug satisfaction written on her face. You know her well enough to read her thoughts as clearly as your own. It's not arrogance at watching her plans and machinations come to fruition, but pride. Pride in you. At what you've done and accomplished. Hugh's wide grin tells you the same, along with Rakshara's roaring voice and raised blade. You don't have the heart to tell them the first voice was your own creation. A little magic spark to ignite the kindling.

"Roderick!"

"Dragon-Rider!"

"Death to Crenus!"

"Kasan!"

You close your eyes and let it all flow over you. This isn't for you... It's for them. The kingdom needs its hero, and you're going to lead them to victory.

"Kasan! Kasan! Kasan!"

Armies march across your mind's eye, beneath the blue dragon and pitchfork of your ancestral crest. Your lips twitch in a soft smile.

"Kasan! Kasan! Kasan!"

For them...

He didn't have to search for the chamber. He just followed the screams. They drew him through the dungeon, along stone passages where candlelight battled shadow, past gawping soldiers. Most of the guards were silent. Some even averted their eyes, and he wondered whether the shame and guilt that perturbed them was his or their own. Only one tried to block his path.

"We... We aren't supposed to let anyone through here..."

She bit her lip for a fraction of a second before becoming aware of the gesture. Then she released the soft flesh with the suddenness of a child biting into a morsel only to find it sour instead of sweet. She was young and looked even younger, a nervous farm girl who didn't belong in this place where blood and darkness gathered.

"I don't think that applies to me," he said.

"Oh... No, sire. Forgive me, sire."

She moved aside, mail clinking, and pressed herself against the wall. Crenus managed the faintest of smiles for her. It drained some of the nervousness from her reddening cheeks and lasted just long enough for him pass by. The next screams made it falter.

Strong wooden doors, reinforced with bands of enchanted iron, stood in the thick stone on either side. Each had a little window at head height -- a black space sealed and split into small squares by a metal lattice. The light which infiltrated them from the corridor was the only illumination in the windowless cells beyond, and even this was denied to some by shutters that buried the lattices behind solid, featureless panels. Darkness for the prisoners. Darkness to leave them alone with their thoughts, populated by fears and nightmares. Because this wasn't a place where men and women were held to serve out sentences. It was a place where they were broken.

King Crenus walked towards the screams.

The door to the torture chamber wasn't locked, but it protested when he pushed it open. Hinges creaked like ancient bones -- the chatter of decaying skulls, lamenting or deriding the room's use after decades when spiders reigned there in cobweb kingdoms. Flecks of old paint and rust the color of bloodstains fell from them. Wood scraped and shuddered on the stone floor, a groaning prophet uttering ill omens. A fresh shriek formed the perfect counterpoint.

The screaming man was spread-eagled on the opposite wall, shackled at the wrists and ankles. His head slumped forward. A mound of curly black hair fell over his face, hiding his anguish. His wrists dragged against the manacles and the metal bit into his skin. It took Crenus a moment to realize the prisoner was naked. Blood and gore covered him like a garment, slathering his limbs and torso.

There were four others in the chamber. Two wore robes -- an elderly man with a wizened face, garbed in icy blue and a shade of brilliant white that matched the long beard flowing down his chest, obscuring the golden dove embroidered there; a handsome middle-aged woman dressed in black and green, her garments decorated with the bloody barbs of Babilus, Prince of Pain. One cleric to enhance his agony and another to keep him alive. Both were chanting, eyes downcast, but they glanced up when the door moaned and the monarch entered. Karuss' servant regarded him with a solemn gaze. The priestess' lips were curved in an enigmatic smile that was neither cruel nor joyful.

The other two occupants had their backs to the doorway. One of them was a goblin. He looked round, revealing a hooked nose and a straight dagger, the two daubed in blood as though both had carved wounds into the prisoner's flesh. He stared at the king with eyes sharper and more piercing than his blade, then flicked his gaze to the chamber's final occupant -- a gaunt man with a ring of iron grey hair encircling his balding pate.

"What is it? I told you we weren't to be disturbed," Marlus Quent said as he turned. His eyes widened. He swore and darted in front of the king. "You shouldn't be here. It's not..."

"It's being done in my name and under my authority," Crenus said. "Should I pretend my hands are clean?"

Quent sighed. He made a weary gesture at the others. The priests continued chanting, while the torturer returned his sharp stare to his victim -- waiting for the moment his knife or one of the other implements laid out on the long table would join it.

"Has he spoken?" Crenus asked.

"Only to curse us and call for your death. He's a tough one, a proper fanatic. That's why I sent for her."

Behind Marlus, the priestess' eyes were reddening -- as though all their vessels had burst and were drowning her orbs in luminous blood. Her chant grew louder but no more comprehensible.

"The others?" Crenus tilted his head towards the doorway and the corridor beyond.

"Just suspects. Not caught in the act like this one. I told the interrogators your orders. They'll only be questioned, not harmed. Till he talks..."

Crimson blazed in the woman's eyes. Light spread from them like spilled wine, creeping over the prisoner's body where wounds knitted themselves shut, brightening the redness. The barbs on her robe dripped blood. Embroidered droplets fell from each one, trickling through the fabric and pooling at her feet -- changing the garment's hue inch by inch, impossible liquid filling an unreal vessel. The torturer's knife shimmered scarlet. And it too blazed, drawing in the light and radiating it, a convert proselytizing, spreading the agonizing edicts of Babilus.

"Tell us what you know," Crenus said. "Speak, and I'll order them to stop. I'll give you a quick death."

The priestess stopped chanting. Her glowing eyes flickered. The torturer hesitated, blade hovering uncertain. Quent winced.

"Leave it to them," he said. "Go back to Isabella..."

The prisoner's head snapped up, throwing the tangle of black curls away from his eyes. They burned in his scarlet face almost as bright as those of the priestess.

"You!" The word came out as a hiss, air escaping from a pair of bellows. His mouth opened in a savage smile. "Death to Crenus! Death to all the Seluthas!"

"My cousin was just a child," the king said. He stepped forward, nudging Marlus aside.

"You kill ours, we kill yours!" He tried to spit, but the blob of scarlet saliva dribbled down his chin instead, glistening like a ruby. "For Roderick!"

"The dagger was poisoned. He-"

"He moaned like a stuck pig!"

Quent and the others exchanged glances. The advisor's shoulders rose in a slight shrug. Crenus ignored it. The words came tumbling out of his thoughts, where they'd seethed ever since a messenger came before him with the grim news.

"Roderick fought soldiers. He didn't-"

"And you had him killed! Hacked up like an animal!"

"I-"

"%He% told us what you did! What your men did to Roderick!"

The torturer lowered his blade and stepped back, letting the words spew from the prisoner where before there'd been only oaths and screams.

"%He%?" Crenus said. "Who?"

"%name% Kasan!"

The king reeled as though struck. %name% Kasan... That name again, once submerged beneath the demagogue's, lost in the sea of war, now risen again to plague his days and torment his dreams. The one he'd seen...

"Kasan!" The prisoner spat the word, a predator with the scent of blood in his nostrils, driving a claw, a fang, a blade deep into the opening. "You killed Roderick, but the Kasan will lead us! The Kasan!"

Crenus met Marlus' grim gaze, then turned to the torturer.

"Find out everything," he said. "Everything."

"Kasan! Kasan! Kasan!"

The prisoner's words followed King Crenus into the corridor, and pursued him down the stone passage until they turned into screams.

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