Tenebroum

Chapter 143: Vengeance not Victory
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Chapter 143: Vengeance not Victory

While her dark god feasted and thrashed about the city, the Voice of Reason entered the hole that had once been the main gate astride a skeletal horse that walked slowly into town. Her master would devour every last soul in the place. All save one or two in the castle. Those, it had left them to her, so that she could properly carry out her vengeance.

Despite the obvious joy her lord was taking as he sucked the life out of Rahkin’s inhabitants, part of her was saddened to see it. Her terrifying master had built each of its constructs for a single purpose. The Dreamer existed to spread the darkness into the minds of those who might be susceptible, the Dark Paragon existed to crush the forces of light and life on the field of battle, and she existed to make the reluctant see reason and bring them into the fold.

After all, even a lord of the dead would rule better if it had a few living allies to carry out tasks during the daylight hours, and the darkness’s priesthood was a bloody place always eager for fresh recruits. Each of them had their purpose, and only she had failed in hers.

Had the King seen things her way, then even now, this might be a bustling city of thirty thousand souls working hard to bring in the harvest. Instead, walls were blackened, buildings were collapsed, and dead lay scattered in the streets.

As she rode slowly toward the heart of Rahkin, she watched men and women continuing to die as the hungry mouths and limbs of the darkness ripped soul from body, making their corpses fall to the ground like a marionette with severed strings as the dark jungle made of etheric limbs multiplied in number again and again.

It could do the same thing to her just as easily. She knew that. It might at any time, too, if she failed it again.

For now, though, the person-sized tentacles that were its grasping mouths steered around her. One day, she might not be worth repairing, but for now, she was hardly considered food.

Her soul, like the rest of the darkness’s constructs, was a fragile, artificial thing and hardly the font of life force that it was currently seeking for. So she continued on, unmolested, as she rode toward the castle.

Several times along the way, she found guards. In most cases, they simply ran from the sight of a broken woman on a skeletal steed, but in one instance, they had enough steel left in their spine to stand their ground.

Then she took a deep breath into her hollow chest and shrieked a single inhuman note that lingered in the air for almost half a minute. The terrible note cracked nearby glass and was enough to rupture the eardrums of the men who opposed her. Most of them fled at that, but the one that didn’t, collapsed with blood pouring from his ears and nose.

He wasn’t dead, but he would be when her lord found his insensible form and consumed him. The Voice of Reason rode past the body without so much as a sideways glance as the body as she approached her target at the main gate.

Before her carriage exploded, she would have hesitated to use the sole weapon she’d been given for fear that she would have cracked her perfect porcelain face. Those days were over now. Though the cracks had been fixed with molten gold, and where larger caps were visible, pieces of moonstone and finely crafted howlite had been cut to fit.

The end result was still beautiful, in its way, though it lacked the perfect symmetry she’d had at her creation. As a result, she could not bear to look at herself in the mirror and routinely shattered them when she came across them.

The rest of her broken body had been repaired in a similarly piecemeal way. The golden wires of her hair had been melted down and replaced, though they were not as lovely as before, and her limbs were repaired in the same flawed style as her face, though they could not be seen under her black dress.

The construct rode into the castle without opposition. The gate was still sealed, but one of the side doors had been left open by someone who’d decided that fleeing would be safer than cowering behind the walls. They were wrong. Nowhere was safe now. The Lich owned the world for leagues in every direction.

The halls were even more vacant than the rest of the city, but the Voice of reason ignored all of that as she made her way to the Grand Hall and the throne itself. She was here for one reason and one alone: to murder the traitors and redeem herself.

The only guards she found were outside the door to the throne room itself, but these weren't palace regulars. One old man with a boar spear stood shoulder to shoulder with a boy too young to grow a beard wielding a kitchen knife. It was a laughable scene, and when the two of them found themselves face to face with a construct as hideous as her, they bolted in opposite directions, leaving her free to enter the seat of Rahkin’s power.

Inside, she found the last stand she’d expected. Half a dozen gray-beared knights stood or knelt in prayer in the center of the room, halfway between her and the throne.

None of them was able to endure The Voice of Reason’s keening scream long enough to make it even halfway to her before they fell on the polished stone floors. The only difference between this encounter and the last one was the way that the stained glass fell from the intact windows near the ceiling and rained down on all of them.

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She walked over that glass, letting it crunch beneath her high-heeled boots as she strode toward the throne where the Queen waited for her.

“Queen of the dead,” the Voice of Reason said cordially. “Pity you had not taken my lord’s generous offer. Then your people and your sons might yet live.”

“So you admit it!” The Queen yelled a touch too loudly, for she was still partially deafened by the earlier screech. “I knew it was your vengeance for their refusal.”

“Vengeance?” the construct asked in confusion. “My vengeance only arrives today. I have come to wring your sorry throat as well as that of every member of your family who dares to live!”

“You have already slain them with your foul poison!” the Queen yelled with tears in her eyes.

This confused the Voice of Reason considerably. She’d killed no one. Certainly not the people she’d been trying to negotiate with. “I believe you are mistaken,” she said simply. “My only weapon has ever been words, and now I have come to take yours away forever for interfering in my Lord’s critical diplomacy.”

As the Voice of Reason strode toward the throne itself to carry out her task, a voice yelled from the shadows. “She did nothing! If you want someone to blame for standing against you, then face me, you monster!”

The woman who spoke so bravely stepped out of the darkness, clutching a dagger in her hand, and the Voice of Reason turned to the new speaker and then dropped the frail old woman back onto the throne to face this challenger. She might not have been created for fighting, but even a doll like her could take off the starving woman before her. She’d probably been beautiful once, but like everything else in this city, war and starvation had taken their toll, and the princess was a shadow of the woman she’d once been.

“No. That’s impossible. You?” the Queen mouthed, unbelieving. “You couldn’t have… your father… your brothers. You couldn’t have—”

“I did.” the princess said curtly. “I had to. They sought to ally with evil, and that made them evil as well.”

The Voice of Reason merely stood there, letting all this play out while she listened. Not only was this level of betrayal and emotional turmoil certain to draw the hungry gaze of her master, but it meant one thing above all others.

I didn’t fail, she thought to herself. I convinced the man and his generals to see the error of their ways.

She felt the relief wash over her, and as she stood their stiffly, only the slightest of smiles at the corner of her ceramic lips betrayed that sudden lightness. For months now she’d carried around the weight that was the certainty she’d failed to accomplish her mission. Now she knew that was incorrect. She’d succeeded in winning over the heart of the kingdom, only to have that tentative truce betrayed by the man’s own daughter.

That was simply too delicious for words. It was almost enough to make all these wasted lives worthwhile.

“Your father, the King, he would never—” the Queen answered.

“He did, Mother!” the princess screeched, almost matching the volume of the Voice’s earlier destructive note. “He was going to trade human lives and souls to this… this… thing and I could never have allowed it. It would have damned all of us to the pits!”

The Queen opened her mouth to protest again, but no sound came out. Instead, she broke into sobs and lay heavily across one arm of the jeweled throne, letting the crown on her head trouble to the ground. It was a pitiful sight, but the Voice basked in it for a moment before she began walking toward the princess.

“What is it you think you prevented?” The porcelain doll asked. “All you did was seal the fate of everyone in your city. Why would you do that when piece would have saved so many lives.”

“I’m more concerned with their souls than their lives,” the princess spat back.

“Their souls will never escape the grip of my master either,” the Voice of Reason said, gesturing toward the window. There, they had a clear view of the black veins burrowing into half the buildings of the city. The shadows no longer looked like a monstrous creature. They grew too thickly and too numerously for that now.

The scene looked like the roots of an impossibly large tree or the tangled veins of a cancer now. Either way, the metaphor was apt, and it feasted on the city while tiny things like them could only watch in disbelief as it devoured the world.

“You’re lying,” the princess whispered. “My father and brothers are safe in Elysium, where you can never touch them, and I’ll join them there soon enough.”

“Is that so?” the Voice of Reason asked, taking two steps toward the woman before she raised her weapon again. This time, she dropped it and staggered back a few steps.

“I will not run from my city, but I will not let you have me either.” the princess said. Those were her final words before she dropped to the floor. The Voice had thought that the woman was merely starving, but it would seem that she turned the same poison she had on her brothers on herself in a bid to die before the darkness could take her.

That was never an option, though. The Lich would devour every last soul in the city before the night was through.

It wouldn’t devour the bodies, though, and this one was too lovely and too fitting not replace her current one. She moved to the wall to lower a tapestry so she could hang it by its heels and drain it of blood before it began to rot. Perhaps in light of her good work, the Lich would grant her a boon and give her the flawless face of the woman that had upset all of their plans.

Only then would the voice of reason be able to look at herself in the mirror again.

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