Oath - Part 1
I was inspired to try something new this week. Thanks for giving it a shot!
The Chancellor gazes at her reflection, admiring her royal mask and ceremonial robe. Her rise to power was hardly a walk in the park. She had risen through the ranks of the military leadership until she became the top general. She made herself indispensable to the previous Chancellor, and never displayed anything other than the utmost loyalty. She swore an Oath that under her watch, the Chancellor would remain the supreme ruler in the land. None were surprised when the childless Chancellor named her as his successor. Less than a year later, he passed away peacefully. The Chancellor is dead. Long live the Chancellor.
The military, of course, pledged her their full support. But developing a strong military cost the kingdom dearly. The commonfolk struggled to pay the ever-increasing taxes. New reports arrived daily of potential conspiracies to overthrow the kingdom. But the Chancellor had sworn an Oath, and she intended to live up to it.
Turning from the mirror, the Chancellor enters the council room. Her spies report three particular individuals who could pose a threat: two in the provincial mountain village, and one in the distant Rocky Coast. She orders her generals to establish garrisons in both regions, as well as the kingdom’s cradle in the Plains. Additionally, she orders the construction of new roads and paths through the forests surrounding the nearby lush coast. Military forces are useless if they cannot reach the battlefield, after all.
Meanwhile, in the mountains, a young man known only as “The Red Fox,” swallows his fear as he enters a twisted forest. He watched the Chancellor’s armies march into his village and demand food and lodging from the already destitute citizens. He knew that something had to be done, but he had no idea how he could possibly fight the awesome might of the kingdom. Then one evening, a shadowy figure approached him in the tavern. “The answers you seek are in the forest.” The Fox started, but could not find the person who had spoken. He was not sure if he should believe the mysterious voice, but he had nothing to lose.
After hours of wandering the underbrush, he finds an enormous, ancient tree. He sits in its shade, gazing in wonder at its size. Strangely, some of the knots in the oak’s bark almost look like a wizened face. But his musings are interrupted as several figures emerge from the forest. The Fox leaps to his feet and reaches for his knife, then grins wildly at the sight of his childhood playmates. “You followed me! Oh, I am so happy to see you again!” The old friends laugh and embrace and share stories of the intervening years. When the Fox’s turn comes, he explains why he is in the forest and what he is looking for. Before the anyone can respond, a deep voice echoes through the forest. “Ahh, child. Then you can rest easy. You have found that for which you have searched.”
Startled, the Fox and his friends look around wildly, then gape in shock as the tree itself begins to laugh. “Haha! Do not be frightened! I know why you are here. You sense that the chains of oppression will descend more heavily upon all denizens, do you not? I can help you. You must inspire the people to stand up against the Chancellor’s might. The armies are powerful, but the will of the people can be greater still. You and your companions must do everything you can to build the people’s support. The future of the kingdom is in your hands.”
The Fox’s brain buzzed with the old oak’s revelations. Could he really save the kingdom? As he returns to the village, a strangely dressed man approaches him. He claims to be an alchemist who can transmute mundane objects into gold. Intrigued, the Fox asks for a demonstration. Closing his eyes, the Alchemist whispers a strange incantation. The Fox can feel . . . something . . . deep inside him wither away. But when he opens his eyes, the leaves on the table have transformed into solid gold coins! The Fox hires the Alchemist on the spot as a personal advisor. With access to nearly unlimited resources, the Fox sees an opportunity to fulfill his destiny. He begins sharing his wealth with the destitute villagers. Stories of his generosity spread throughout the village, but so too do rumors of the unholy origin of his newfound wealth. Still, his beneficence is too great for the villagers to ignore, and the Fox’s reputation in the kingdom begins to grow.
One mysterious figure watches all of this with growing concern. “The Blue Cyclops,” hailing from the nomadic tribes that wander the desolate salt flats, had come to the mountains in search of aid against the Chancellor’s tyranny. At first intrigued by the Red Fox’s popularity, she gathers every dark rumor about the Fox’s wealth. She realizes that the Fox has access to some sort of dark magic that he is using to generate immense wealth. She retraces his path to greatness, and finds herself deep in the forest outside the village. There, she finds the old oak. It opens its mouth to speak, and she feared its power might render her helpless. Quickly, she calls upon her own power to cast a taming charm. The spell’s powerful magic contains the Old Oak’s consciousness and forces it into a distant forest.
Confident that she has eliminated the source of the Fox’s hidden knowledge, she returns to the village. There, she gathers with a group of vocal naysayers who resent both the Chancellor’s might and the Fox’s sudden generosity. One opens an ancient map that points to buried treasure deep undergound. The Cyclops and her companions put together an expedition to recover the treasure. Deep underground, the expedition is a success: she discovers a powerful relic known as The Ivory Eye. This is the tool she needs to save the kingdom and ascent to the throne! She just needs to learn to use it. Surely her tribesmen would be able to teach her how to master its powers. She and her companions slip out of the mountains and head to the salt flats.
Way out in the hinterlands, a third figure prepares for more direct action. The “Yellow Doll,” as he is called, smolders with rage. The Chancellor’s garrison has made life, already difficult for the people in the hinterlands, nearly impossible. Frustrated, he wanders the region in search of new recruits for his growing military. His travels bring him to a nearby nomad camp, where the village elders grant him an audience. They agree to support his cause, and his army grows. The elders have more to offer than just soldiers, though. In the wee hours of the night, they form a circle with the Doll and utter a mysterious chant. Before his very eyes, a terrifying demonic figure appears. “You seek . . . power. Yes, power to thwart your enemies. This is acceptable. I offer you . . . a small favor. We shall speak again.” The figure disappears. Bewildered, the Doll exits the tent. Immediately, four orange portals tear open in the sky outside the camp. Four battalions of imps march onto the field, turn toward the Doll, and salute.
Encouraged by his now substantial army, the Doll plans a campaign. He launches a two-pronged attack upon the Chancellor’s garrisons in the mountain village and the rocky coast. The fighting is bloody, and the Chancellor’s garrisoned longbowmen inflict heavy casualties from afar, but the Doll’s armies win the day. As his men celebrate their grand victory, a voice echoes in the Doll’s ears: “Did you enjoy your taste of power? Now it is time for payment . . .” The Doll was not seen from again, and with the loss of their leader, his army’s discipline broke down and turned to banditry.
Shocked by the sudden outbreak of war and chaos, all three leaders begin amassing forces to fill the power vacuum. The Chancellor is first off the mark in fending off marauding bandits in central Lush Coast before sending her forces across the sea to reclaim the distant Rocky Coast. The Red Fox recruits several locals to join his own cause and free the Mountain village, cementing his popularity within the rural provinces.
But the Blue Cyclops has other plans afoot. She consults with her tribe’s wisest men and women to learn the secrets of the ancients. After much perseverance, she learns the secret of the Ivory Eye. She peers through it, and blinks as she is shown a whirlwind of disparate images. Gritting her teeth, she exerts her will over the relic. Her eyes focus on a barren wasteland. Amid the rolling hills covered in dry brush and dirt, she notices a glimmer. In a remote corner of the waste, buried underground, sits another relic. This one glows green and flickers, like a roaring flame. In the face of the Chancellor’s might and the Fox’s popularity, she realizes that she will need every ancient tool and relic possible to fight back. She gathers her forces and embarks on the long journey to the wastes. Navigating the barren landscape takes every bit of wealth and scrap of knowledge she has, but eventually she finds it: the deadly secret of Sticky Fire.
With the cradle and the rocky coast now firmly back under her control, the Chancellor focuses her efforts on rebuilding her armies and her coffers. The Fox, having liberated the mountain village, decides it is time to spread his influence elsewhere in the kingdom. He arrives at a quaint settlement nestled near a sleeping giant. The locals welcome him as a savior, but warn him to stay away from the abandoned cabin at the edge of town. Something ancient and evil rests there, they say. The Fox and his followers disregard the people’s pleas and visit the cabin.
An eerie feeling prickles their skin, and several of his companions grow so terrified they dash out of the cabin. But the Fox discovers that the feeling is emanating from the back room. Inside, he tracks it to a loose floorboard under the bed. He rips them off the floor, and gazes down at a bubbling cauldron. His companions back away and urge him to leave the clearly cursed relic behind, but the Fox swallows, reaches down, and lifts the cauldron out of the hole. The cauldron’s glow casts shadows over his eyes and mouth even as he reassures everyone that it is okay, he is in full control. He adds, “this will give us the edge over the Chancellor in our inevitable conflict.”
From that moment on, the Cauldron never left the Fox’s side. It’s eerie green light transformed the Fox’s vibrant red fur to a mottled brown and rust. The Fox’s behavior grew harder and more focused. He continued to use his magical wealth to help the locals, but his conversations were clipped and short. Before long, he ordered his forces to travel on to the Salt Flats. There, he caught some bandits attacking a local Nomad tribe. He ordered his soldiers to kill them all, and the nomads celebrated his arrival.
The Blue Cyclops woke up with a start. She had dreamed of the Kingdom, prosperous and secure, under her rule. Armed with ancient relics and knowledge, she stood vigilant to protect her people from every threat. No, not just a dream. A Vision. A Vision of Sanctuary, where all denizens could safely travel the land without fear. She arose determined to make her vision a reality. The first step: capturing the Red Fox’s latest acquisition. She concocts a simple, yet clever, plan. The Red Fox’s forces, exhausted after liberating the salt flats, will not suspect an immediate threat from the local populace. Under the cover of darkness, her soldiers attack the Fox’s forces. With the guards distracted, her thieves slip into the Fox’s residence to steal the cauldron. But her forces underestimated how quickly her own people would turn to support the Fox. Aided by the townsfolk, the Fox’s soldiers handily fought off the Cyclops’ soldiers and killed the thieves.
As the chaos of battle subsided, the cauldon started to bubble over. The eerie green liquid splashed over the edges of the containers and flowed toward thieves’ corpses. The liquid soaked into their pallid flesh. Then, each corpse jerkily climbed to their feet and marched to the perimeter of the village. Soldiers and commoners alike screamed at the sight of the dead walking, but the Fox climbed atop a cart to address his people. “Friends, friends! Do not fear! What we have witnessed is the true might of the people! Together, we can overcome immense odds. And, thanks to the cauldron, we can rest assured that our forces will never dwindle. These misguided individuals now have the opportunity to amend their mistakes and fight for a better tomorrow! Together, we shall make this a land for the people, not the wealthy elites in the cradle! Are you with me?!” The villagers cheered, shouting their support for the Red Fox as the cauldron’s green glow glistens in the background.
The Chancellor reads the provincial reports with growing unease. The Fox was already a threat, but the latest rumors claimed that he commanded an army of undead soldiers. Unbelievable as it was, the Chancellor knew she must turn her full might upon this pretender to the throne. Gathering her forces, she marches to the provinces and attacks the Fox’s base in the mountain village. The Fox’s supporters fight valiantly, but are no match for the Chancellor’s highly-trained soldiers. The Chancellor wins in a bloody battle that wipes out a significant portion of her army. With the village now under control, she begins pressing locals into her army to repair her losses.
As reports reach the Red Fox about the fall of the Mountain village, he hardly flinches. His companions urge him to ride north and throw out the Chancellor once and for all. But the Fox’s eyes glow green with the light of the cauldron as he answers: “My loyal people have succeeded in their mission, and slowed down the Chancellor. Our destiny lies further out, in the Hinterlands.” Gathering his remaining troops, he pushes out to the barren wastes. Along the way, several bandits attack, but his forces easily repel them. He sets up patrols throughout the Wastes to drive the bandits away for good.
The Blue Cyclops, enraged by her troop’s failure to secure the cauldron, comes to a terrible realization. Her coffers are nearly empty. She lacks the resources to obtain intelligence reports, recruit warbands, or even procure spell components to use the ivory eye or prepare sticky fire. With the salt flats firmly under the Fox’s control, she embarks on a journey to a rich and powerful city where she hopes to acquire the resources she needs. She arrives only to discover that the once mighty city is now a shadow of its former self; a great slum filled with impoverished beggars and downtrodden merchants. In desperation, she locks herself in a room at the first tavern she finds, and prepares a forbidden ritual. Before long, a horned demon appears in the magic circle.
“Why have you summoned me?”
“Great lord, I come to you for aid. A misguided young man has resorted to raising the dead in order to become the new ruler of this land. We both know that the souls of the dead rightfully belong with you, and so I call for your aid to put an end to this threat. Please, great lord, grant me your assistance!”
“You speak the truth. This disruption of the natural order cannot go unpunished. I grant you this.” The demon extends an arm to the edge of the circle, holding an immense golden key. “This is the key to the city. It is a powerful construct, and should aid you.”
The Cyclops grasped the key as the demon vanished, leaving her alone in the room. Sighing in relief, she leaves the tavern and marches to the city hall. She enters the mayor’s office and slams the key on his desk. “You know what this is. Now get out of my office!” The mayor, a small, timid man, gasps, and rushes out of the room. Word quickly spreads of the powerful new mayor. With her new found authority, she begins the difficult work of rebuilding her coffers.
The Chancellor, now in firm control of the mountain village, turns her attention to another recalcitrant province: the salt flats. At the sight of the approaching army, the Fox’s remaining supporters flee to join their leader at the wastes. The locals valiantly resist, but the result is inevitable. With the more rebellious provinces firmly under her control, the Chancellor can now turn her attention out to the hinterlands. The Fox’s main army is still out there, and now a new rival has established control over the great slum. The Chancellor prepares her forces for a distant expedition.
The Fox hatches a dangerous plan. The people of the provinces and hinterlands support him fully, but he knows that without the cradle’s large populations, his effort is doomed to fail. To that end, he and his forces approach the rocky coast under disguise to avoid any confrontations with the Chancellor’s garrison. From there, he charters a ship to the lush coast in the cradle. Upon his arrival, he senses a familiar presence. While his supporters establish a safe house for his forces, the Fox slips into forest alone. There he discovers his old mentor, the ancient oak! It could only be providence that one of his most powerful allies had now reappeared at this critical juncture.
“You have grown powerful in my absence, young fox. I sense . . . a darkness about you. But you have not achieved your goal, either. I believe that you will create a land where all denizens can prosper, and for that, you will need something else. This land hides a dark secret, a truth that could upend everything if it were to come to light. But I cannot share it with you, for I know it not. You will need to seek another ally. I wish you luck.”
The Fox is troubled by the revelation from The Old Oak. Supporters continue to flock to his banner every day, but he cannot quite figure out what to do next. One day he notices that some nomads have guided a great herd into town. He approaches the band and greets some elders who had joined the herd migration. “Yes. You are the one. Come to our camp tonight, after sundown. Come alone. We will give you the aid you need.” The Red Fox nodded, and restlessly paced the hours away. Finally, the sun set, and the Fox slipped out to the nomad camp.
“Good. You came. Now sit, we must tell you the full story.” The Fox carefully sits across from the elders as they begin their story. As the story continues, the Fox’s eyes glow brighter and brighter. Nomad clans passed down the true knowledge of the world from generation to generation. The Chancellor and her predecessor had nearly succeeded in wiping this secret from the face of the kingdom for good, and now only the Fox can keep it safe. A grim smile creeps across The Fox’s lips. This is what he needed. This will surely result in the Chancellor’s downfall, and place The Red Fox at the forefront of a bright future.
The Blue Cyclops, now backed by demonic forces and local supporters, focuses all of her efforts on rebuilding her coffers. She knows that with The Red Fox’s popularity, it is only a matter of time before he amasses enough influence to overthrow the Chancellor. At the same time, the Chancellor’s stranglehold over the land grows ever tighter, and the Red Fox could fall into her clutches at a moment’s notice. Why couldn’t either of them realize that their paths would inevitably lead to violence, chaos, and destruction? Desperately, she taps every resource and connection throughout the city. Slowly, her reputation in the Kingdom grows as her vision of peace and safety resonates with a population exhausted by conflict. But would it be fast enough?
The Chancellor, aware of the Red Fox’s growing popularity in the cradle, decides to press on. The cradle and provinces remain firmly under her control, and all that remains is to eliminate the Fox’s remaining forces in the wastes. She marches her armies out the distant Hinterlands where she dispatches his rearguard with ease. The Chancellor smiles. The Red Fox holds no sites of significance anywhere in the Kingdom. The Blue Cyclops clings to power in the remote great slum, but clearly poses no threat. All the remains is to return to the cradle and arrest that annoying rabble-rouser, ending the conflict once and for all.
That night, the Red Fox woke from a Vision. It was too vivid to be a dream. In it, he stood atop a tall tower, wearing ornate robes and a brilliant crown. Below, thousands and thousands of people cheered and shouted his name. He showered his people with money and ordered feasts. He ended conscription laws and cut taxes. No one dared stand against him. His people would tear any opposition apart and his cauldron would transform even the most vehement opposition into willing obedience given the appropriate . . . motivation.
With the cheers echoing in his ears, the Fox realizes that the time has come. Gathering his followers, the Red Fox shares his Vision of Rebellion, and they erupt in acclamation. Volunteers rush to join his forces and his armies swell. Before the Chancellor can react, the Red Fox attacks the lush coast’s garrison and claims victory. The locals cheer for his ascendance, while the defeated garrison forces rise from the grave to replace his losses. The Red Fox has a new capital, and it is in the cradle of the kingdom.
News of the Red Fox’s victory quickly spreads throughout the realm, even reaching the distant Hinterlands in mere days. Not even the Yellow Doll had established a foothold in the cradle, but now the Fox is primed to claim the throne. The Blue Cyclops desperately pours every resource into building her own popularity. She needs just a little more time to fulfill her vision, and to that end, she must rival the Red Fox’s popularity first. She manages to build herself up as a prominent leader thanks to her expert rule in the great slum, but it is simply insufficient to supplant the Red Fox.
The Chancellor realizes that she has fallen into The Fox’s trap. Though she controls a mighty army, she is too far away from the Lush Coast to bring the full force of her military to bear. Never popular to begin with, The Fox’s rise has caused her own star to plummet to new depths. Still, she heads to the Rocky Coast to sail back to the cradle. Long before she arrives comes news that throughout the kingdom the people have launched an all-out rebellion. Her garrisons are overrun, and her followers have been exiled or executed. Defeated, she escapes into the hinterlands with only her most loyal supporters.
As his first royal action, the Red Fox contacts his rival, the Blue Cyclops. Nervous about what such a powerful adversary could accomplish on her own, he extends an offer to join him as a Citizen in his new empire. The Blue Cyclops realizes that this level of recognition would provide her a great opportunity to reform the kingdom from within. She graciously accepts, making the great slum a new center of trade and commerce in the new world order.
And so, one chapter closes, while another begins. Gone are the days of the Chancellor’s military conquests. Now battles are fought for the hearts and minds of the People. But the People are known to be fickle, and in such a land, well, the future is never certain.
What did you think? Was this fun? Confusing? Boring? Let me know in the comments!