Chapter 17


You are now the first guy again. Your name is 2323 of the Derse Army. But you guess you're not in the Derse Army any more. Not since 22 decided to run things.

You are a captain, with your own hat and star to prove it. Or, at least, you were a captain. You're not too sure about how things work around here now. Like whether or not captains are still captains. You wish 22 had been a little clearer about things like that.

Ehh. 22's too busy to worry about little details like that. He's got a revolution to run here. Guys like him have gotta focus on the big picture, see? Let the chumps and the low-rollers sweat the small stuff!

Hmmm. It's just not like your old friend 22. To be up and doing this sort of thing. Seizing power and whatnot. What happened to the gentle ol' gaffer that was too skittish to raise a spear in self-defense? You were always getting that guy out of scrapes and the like. It's like he's a changed pawn now.

Oh, but that's not to say you don't have his back any more or anything. Quite the contrary; you were officially appointed as his right-hand pawn a little while ago. His first mate. His second-in-command. His lieutenant-at-arms. He made it very clear that, should anything happen to him, it would be you who would carry on the fight.

You never thought he had it in him. It's like he found his vim overnight. His presence alone stopped a battle in the valley. And now he's going to raise all sorts of hell to put an end to this war. It was something you'd both agreed on from a while back. That you both loved Skaia. That you hated this war. That you wished it would all just stop. Only difference is that he had the guts to leave. To tough it out on his own. What a guy.

And now he's back. He's back, and he's making things happen in a big way. You can't get over this guy's newfound charisma. His ability to sway a crowd. To win their favor. To make everyone just stop fighting. You only hope this peace will last.

Over the past hour, you and 22 have been overseeing the operations of Derse Castle as your movement's temporary home base. Injured pawns from both sides of the conflict were brought in on stretchers to the infirmary for treatment. You rejoiced inwardly every time you saw a wounded Prospitian carried in by two Dersites, or vice versa. The first step toward a new age of peace and friendship between the pawns. It's just what 22 envisioned.

During this time, you recognized your old friend 2313 as an avid stretcher-carrier. He met your eye, and nodded in greeting. He couldn't believe any of what was happening, either. None of you could have seen it coming.

After you were promoted to captain, you had to leave your old unit, and undergo days of rigorous captain's training. The last time you saw 13 was a week ago. Time flies.

You and 22 made a point of letting everyone know that it's you and him who're overseeing things here. It's you guys giving the orders now, and no one else. The sooner you can get everyone to believe that, the smoother this revolution's going to go.

You realize that the majority of pawns are naturally inclined to subordination. Most pawns would rather be told what to do than make big decisions and risk messing things up.

But that's not to say that pawns can't think for themselves. Indeed, if your fellow pawns were that simple-minded, they would have continued fighting on the orders of their kings instead of uniting under 22's flag.

You fear that, after all is said and done, the masses may not know what to do with their newfound freedom. It may take many of them some time to adjust to not having to follow any orders or schedule. Ideally, you could make the most of this through organized labor to benefit everyone.

But everyone would have to understand that no one's doing any forcing or bossing around. They would work for everyone's own good. And if they don't like your system, they'll be free to go somewhere else. Or change the system, you guess. That's what you're doing, after all.

A troubling thought occurs to you. How loyal are the pawns on the homeworlds to their respective kings? 22 had the transportalizers upstairs shut down to prevent agents from stopping the revolution. They're likely on their way in ships by now. If that's the case, they won't be here for several hours. Support from Prospit could arrive in minutes, but there's not as much chance of them trying to stop you. Why would they want to keep you from killing their number one enemy?

But what about afterwards? When the Derse agents arrive to find their king dead? Will they just roll over and accept that? Or will they stay loyal to the King even in his death, and try to arrest you all for treason? You're confident that you have enough numbers to deter them for now, but what if they call in reinforcements?

Just how many agents do they have up on Derse? And what of the Queen? Surely, she would try to apprehend you all, no matter the cost. If not to defend the King, then at least to avenge him afterwards. How many pawns would she need to take out all of yours?

Even as you set out to stop a war, you just might end up starting a new one. Killing the King isn't going to make everything just go away all of a sudden. There will be repercussions. How many of your own pawns will regret what they've done? How many will turn against you when the call to serve queen and country rings out?

Would there even be a prolonged campaign? Who's to say they won't just rain bombs down from the sky on all of you wretched usurpers? It'd certainly be more cost-effective than taking hundreds of prisoners! Who knows what evils the Derse Kingdom is capable of? A kingdom left to cry bloodlust in the name of vengeance for its beloved fallen king?

You should definitely voice your concerns with your best friend and stalwart leader. Wait. No. Even if the kingdom were to rain fiery justice down in the wake of a king's slaying…

There wouldn't be a damn thing any of you could do to stop it. Sure, it's a worrying thought. But there's no sense in trying to solve that problem until it arises. Let 22 focus on the task at hand. He's got enough on his mind already. You can deal with that particular situation when the king is in the ground. Even if that does happen, things are still likely to change back home with that tyrant out of the picture.

It really does worry you, though. Any change at this level is bound to have consequences for the pawns responsible. You're just glad you'll have seen them coming.

It didn't take long to assemble the troops. 22 sort of just announced that it was time, and waited for the majority to gather outside the castle walls. There was no formation. No structure. He didn't care for it. At this point, a given pawn could be either with him or against him. Those against him could stay behind. And those with him could come along. It was as simple as that.

This is it. You're finally preparing to march out. One last campaign. You never thought it would come to this. But you know that 22 is right. There's no other solution. Down with the King.

When most of the pawns have gathered, 22 sounds a horn, and starts walking in the direction of the Black King's Haunt. Any stragglers can catch up with the group if they really want to.

You take your place by his side. The flag in his hand blows freely in the wind despite its many perforations. What an amazing guy. You wish you could say more in encouragement. But the tablets aren't suitable for walk-and-talk.

In any case, the time for fancy words and moral support is over. All that matters now is that he can count on you to watch his back at the decisive moment. Something you've gotten pretty good at after all this time.

You turn to glance behind you. Your forces number in the hundreds, and stretch all the way back to the castle. You wonder if the ones at the back can even see who they're following at this point. Maybe they're just following the crowd. Going along with whatever's happening. So long as you have their support on some level…

After fifteen minutes of marching, you reach the coast of the ocean Caeruleus. The cool sea breezes fill your lungs with moist ocean air. The salty smell is a refreshing change from the dank underground odors that you're used to. The soil beneath you gives way to soft black-and-white sand that crunches lightly with each step you take.

The sea to your left is a wonderful deep blue, darker than the sky. You always marveled at its beauty on your way to missions at the Black King's Haunt. Now you think this bay would be the ideal spot for a new settlement of free pawns. Maybe farther up, where the river meets the sea. You'd love to oversee its construction later on. If the others agree with you, that is.

You press onward, your course only tangential to the ocean. You pass green forests and clear lakes. You traverse rolling hills and lush valleys. The sheer breadth of the Skaian landscape just blows you away. How you long to live among it, and not be sequestered underground.

You march through the region known as the Black King's Haunt. The King is known to inhabit the innermost part of his territory. If you keep going in this direction, you'll encounter him in a matter of minutes. You feel a lump start to form in your throat. You find it just a little harder to breathe. Things are finally coming to a head. You do your best to not let your anxiety show.

You crest yet another hill in the undulating landscape. The King's looming figure presents itself as you rise. The scepter he wields has contorted his form with hideous, alien features.

His crown is ridiculous and gaudy, with four lopsided points. It looks more like a fool's headdress than a symbol of absolute power. His shoulders are adorned with jet black spikes that lacerate his kingly garb.

His flowing, purple cloak is pierced by the large sword stuck through his chest. It's as if a giant ran him through, yet he does not bleed. His sides are blighted with two loathsome, black tendrils. Perhaps someone wished to envision the most hideous abomination to have ever lived, but stopped themselves halfway. Such is the appearance of your King.

His back is turned to you to survey the raging battle for his wretched life. Beyond him, hundreds of troops are fighting. Some to protect him, some to destroy him. He stands as tall as ten pawns. In the distance, you can see the silhouettes of even taller beings.

The mighty knight, in all its equestrian glory, stands at maybe one and a half times the King's height. One of its four massive hooves could crush ten pawns at once! Two long tendrils sprout from the sides, much like the King's own. One such black knight battles a white jester far in the distance.

The jester stands a little shorter than the knight, on legs you would think not strong enough to support its massive, barrel-chested figure. It wears a hat like the king's crown, but with three lopsided points instead of four. It wrestles the knight with its massive bare hands, despite having a perfectly good blade lodged in its chest.

A winged variation of the jester looks to be even bigger than the knight, though you think it would be impossible for something of its size to fly through the air. Maybe the wings are only for show.

Your only comfort is that these massive, lumbering war machines seem to be too far away to stop your regicide in time. As of now, your presence in the haunt goes unnoticed, even by the King. Threats against his life usually come from the enemy castle. He would never think that an attempt on his life could be made from the opposite direction.

You descend into the dip just before the hill that the King stands on. As you start to climb the hill towards him, he finally hears the sounds of your army's marching footsteps, and turns around to face you.

The Black King usually has a standing bodyguard of at least four bishops, eight rooks, and thirty pawns-at-arms around him at all times. However, in light of the sheer numbers of Prospitian troops sent to kill him at the moment, he has sent all of his personal guard down to the front lines to even the odds.

It was a risky decision on his part. But he figured that his last line of defense wouldn't be of much use to him if his previous lines of defense were completely decimated. His guards are the most elite in the kingdom. A single one of his bishops could cast spells to weaken enemies, shield allied forces, or rain fire and explosives down on an incoming army. The King's guard is a force to be reckoned with.

Now, 22's mixed army of pawns is almost upon the King. You grip your sword tightly. Soon, a time will come where you'll never have to use it again. Never have to kill again. You were so very good at it. Your prowess in battle was what ultimately led you to become a captain. But after all was said and done, each life you took ended up tearing you apart inside. You're glad that this will all soon come to an end.

22 doesn't signal for anyone to speed up, or break into a charge. He knows there's no need for it. He couldn't have asked for a better opportunity. The King is all alone. His royal guard battles a familiar enemy in the valley below. Now he's left all by himself to face an army he never knew could exist. An army led by one of his own subjects.

At first, he may have assumed that reinforcements had arrived from his castle. Now, as the realization dawns on him, his narrow slit-eyes widen. He takes a single step back, and grips his scepter tightly in his right hand. It's the look of a King about to lose it all.

Perhaps if his battle form possessed a left arm, he would be able to draw his sword and hold his own. Alas, the stump in its place proves useless. And the right arm holds the scepter needed to maintain his current form. He cannot draw.

22 holds up his left hand in an order to halt, a few paces from the King's feet. The unstoppable army stops of its leader's volition. Perhaps to offer the option of surrender. Perhaps to lord his victory over his former king. Only he knows for sure.

His eyes narrow, and glare at the King. Months of bitter warfare and bloodshed will soon be avenged. His movement has brought him and the masses to the foot of the King's towering figure. And now, this chapter of the battlefield's history will finally come to an end.

The flag of tattered red flutters in the gentle breeze. The Black King looks down at the purple-clad farmer who would lead this army. His countenance reclaims its composure. A king will not beg or grovel for his life. If you are to kill him, then so be it. He looks to his scepter, as if to deactivate it and surrender his supreme stature.

Something to his right catches his eye. As you turn to look, you wonder what it could be. It flies high in the air, a black dot against a blue sky. The dot approaches quickly, and flies over the King's head.

As it changes direction, you can see it clearly for a split second. Two wings, two tendrils, and a jester's hat. The figure pulls the sword from its chest, and dives toward the King with blinding speed. The scepter is broken. The King shrinks to only a head taller than you, and loses his unusual features.

The King blinks in confusion. Only the scepter's handle remains in his grasp. Its massive head crashes to the ground a second later. The figure has landed. A long stillness ensues. The figure rises. A fellow usurper, perhaps?

The King's head is cleft from his shoulders in one smooth movement of the newcomer's polished black sword. The King's lifeless torso slumps to the ground, blood pouring from its neck. His head falls to the ground. It's over.

The usurper now looks to you and your army, as if noticing you for the first time. His sword is stained with the blood of your dead monarch. A grim smile forms across his face, showing sharp white teeth. You feel as though something has gone terribly wrong. This wasn't supposed to happen. But surely he must be on your side… right? You grip your sword tightly.

The mystery usurper is a blur as he comes towards you. You feel a sharp pain in your chest that runs straight through to your back. You look down, and realize you've been stabbed right through. Your uniform develops a reddening stain. The pain is unbearable. Your own sword slips from your grasp.

The monster pulls his sword out of you, and throws you off to the side. You land on your back about ten paces away. You're lying on the side of the hill, your body at an incline with your head at the top. Your carapace is splintered, and blood pours out of two separate wounds. The pain is a little duller now. The smell of rust and iron fills your nostrils.

Shouldn't you be panicking right now? You've just been run through. Maybe since it came so suddenly, you didn't have time to panic. Yeah, that's probably it. You wonder who that guy was. The guy who stabbed you. He's not on the King's side, and he's not on your side. Maybe he's on his own side.

You hope the others can deal with that guy okay. He seems pretty strong. The way he cut through that big metal scepter like it was nothing. They'll be fine. Strength in numbers and all that.

It occurs to you that you might not survive this. Pawns usually die when stuff like this happens to them. You cough weakly.

It's a shame that you couldn't be there to help usher in this new era of peace. The King is dead, so you're sure that things are quickly going to start changing for the better.

22's going to miss you when you're gone. That guy was your best friend. And you were his. Two peas in a pod, you and him. You guess you'll miss him too, wherever it is you go. Guess you'll find out soon.

You look up. There's no other place you can look, really. You're glad you can spend your last moments looking up. You'd hate to die on your front, and you don't think you'd have the energy to roll yourself over. At least the pain's almost faded away completely.

Would you look at that sky today. That big, blue-colored ceiling for the clouds to stay under. Having seen a great deal of what's on the ground in your travels, you can say that what's right above you is the most beautiful thing in the world.

The fluffy white clouds are drifting across the sky, as they always do. You think of all the great and wonderful things they've shown you. All the pictures of amazing people in faraway lands. You quite liked to look at them, even when they didn't have anything to show you.

You've given it a lot of thought. And now you're sure. You really wouldn't mind being a cloud someday.

You take your last breath of air.