A continuation of Tillesia’s story.
The Golden Queen, Part 2
An unnatural silence hung in the air around Prost. Tillesia led her company on foot, holding her long sword at the ready. Yulos continued her work at containment on the overlook hill, some distance away, but she wouldn’t be able to help Tillesia where she planned to go.
Her band of soldiers steeled their resolve, checking their armor and their blades in their scabbards. Her brave little drummer, Hagie, stood with her wooden drumsticks poised for a different sort of battle.
Tillesia waved them forward. The drums came to life.
She pushed through the thick veil of shadow protected Prost, the work of her beloved Yulos. The Dark Magician could halted the corruption at the cost of amplifying it, but they had no choice. The others stepped through the veil, the drum steeled their heart and kept them steady.
Parum-pum-pum-pum, Parum-pum-pum-pum. Over and over their drummer maintined their courage as the full brunt of the destruction. The dead were all soldiers, the same men that took Mattis’ life a few days prior. The people of the city turned and stared, their eyes hollowed by white light and took in Tillesia’s brilliance. Their bodies had been taken by the shadow, no longer human but imps serviving the Shadow Lord. Fresh blood covered their hands where they had ripped apart their captors with bladed claws.
They made no move to attack. Tillesia’s soldiers framed around their drummer, protecting their heart like parts of a single body. They placed their faith in Tillesia, letting her stand at the front with her royal sword at the ready.
Royal. Tillesia scoffed. I am no Queen. No Queen lets her people come to this.
The inhabitants greeted her with indifference, and eyed her band of brave men and women. Tillesia may have been safe, but her men were not.
She still knew the words. A few years away wouldn’t dim the light in her heart. “Defenders true, under a field hewn blue.”
Her company sang in response. “Stand the vigilant Sons of Lye.”
But there was no blue sky. The creatures attacked.
The creatures poured at them from all sides. Their heart beat stronger, louder and their shields and swords rose in defense. The first wave of shadow creatures crashed upon them like ah ocean wave on stone. Black blood poured into the air and bodies were cast aside. They let out a rallying cry and pushed the defense outward, putting space between the Hagie at their center.
Tillesia sheathed her sword. They needed this faith. She trusted them. She sang. “A shadow cast long across our land, brought on by the devil’s hand. People live and people die. Banners fall and banners fly.”
They pushed forward with the beat of their heart pushing back the onslaught of shadow.
“March, don’t walk, towards they fate. Innocence’s guardians can’t be late. We are but a dozen strong. Rest is short and trails be long.”
Her line held. Strikes and steps, they marched towards the twisted heart of Prost, the Usurper’s castle. Tillie’s hands flexed with tension. She wanted to fight, but should she raise her blade against Finnrick, their cause would be lost. They were the righteous ones.
“Carry your spears and swords and pass down heavens word.” A stone cloaked in shadow screamed down the street, punched through his great helm and into the forehead of the man at her left. She did not waver, nor did her line.
Another rallying cry filled the air and their ranks tightened to adjust and joined their voice to hers. “We may bleed and die and maidens they may cry. Swords brought forth, Banners High, eyes cast upward to the sky.”
Another stone and another soldier fell. Hagie glanced over at the fallen, setting her jaw stubbornly.
A figure came into view at the center of the street, his broad stature and simple armor may have been familiar but the shadow of hatred cast over him was a mockery of his bravery. A greatsword remained sheathed at his back, instead he twirled a loaded sling.
Tillesia raised a hand to halt her company. The heartbeat continued. Parum-pum-pum-pum, Parum-pum-pum-pum.
“Mattis?” Tilliesia drew her longsword.
“Tillie. You look radiant.” Mattis said, smiling. “Golden armor suits you.”
“As it should. It is my birthright.”
“Someone kept a few naughty little secrets, huh? You and the Usurper? Really?”
Yulos. It smelled of her trickery. Tilliesia licked her lips. “I—”
“It’s a lie. I know. I wonder what the truth holds?” Mattis glanced in the direction of the overlook, directly at Yulos.
Tillesia charged, but too late. The stone flew into the blackened sky and plunged into the maintained shield. Tillesia shouted but knew Yulos would never hear her. She prayed.
The shield above them shattered and the contained miasma flew upward.
“Mattis. Why?” Tillesia regained her composure, slicing through Mattis with a downward swing. The blade caught nothing tangible; his mocking smile flickered to nothingness. His great sword and sling fell to the ground.
But he aimed at the wrong heart. Tillesia turned, eyes full of fury and gave a nod to Hagie. The girl strengthened her strikes on the stretched hide of her drum.
They marched forward, over the discarded weapons and towards the castle. The shadow beasts maintained a relentless assault, but her remaining men held. With Yulos gone, time would be short. The Shadow’s influence wasted no time reaching to influence anyone they could touch.
How many of those whispers would seep into the standing army of Lye?
“Finnrick,” Tillesia said just above a whisper. “How could you do this?”
Her instincts seized her and she halted mid step. Hagie maintained her drumbeat but stagger stepped at Tillesia’s abrupt halt. The soldiers braced for another wave, but the shadowed figures stopped. The freshly fallen sunk into the ground like water through a drain and the bank ranks stood and stared.
Her skin crawled as pooled shadow formed before her belching forth a foul smoke. An arm erupted from the center of the pool, clenched on the ground, and pulled towards Tillesia. She didn’t relent. Instead, she readied her blade, and prepared for the worst.
Their heart beat on. Hagie showed no fear as two empty eyes stared up at Tillesia. This time it had been something else. Someone else. Finnrick.
He stood, gasping for air, the shadowy muck dribbled from his mop of brown hair and rolled down his familiar cheeks. The mask of shadow fell away as he stood revealing his humanity. He doubled over and caught his breath. “D—damn. It’s hard to breath in that.”
Tillesia didn’t smile. She needed answers before ‘Tillie’ could come out again. “How could you do this?”
“I’m not sure,” Finnrick said. He straightened, eyed the drumming girl behind her and her soldiers, two of which looked him over. He wore the same simple clothes she last saw him wear, and still had the familiar sling dangling at his belt.
“That’s the Lord of Shadow?” One of her men said. “He’s just a boy.”
Tillesia shook her head. “He’s a grown man. Don’t belittle him.”
Finnrick smiled his easy smile and hooked a thumb in his belt. “Thanks, after all this. You still believe in me? That’s my Tillie.”
“Finn. I’ve come to stop you.”
“I know, but I can’t let you. The Usurper hurt you, he hurt everyone. So I’m making him pay.”
Tillesia fell quiet. The Usurper King may have been a tyrant, but Yulos made it so much worse. “He wasn’t anything to me. Just a tyrant that needed killed.”
“Oh I know that. I also know the stunt your girlfriend pulled.” He jabbed a thumb at the distant overlook. “I want to speak with her.”
“Speak with her?” Tillesia’s heart lightened. He didn’t kill her?
“I didn’t kill her.” Finnrick tapped his temple. “Never planned to. She means a lot to you right? So, she means a lot to me. She’s also a Dark Magician, she can make this right.”
“None of this is—”
“All of it is. Listen.” Finnrick waved a hand and voices came to life around her. The shadows shouted with still mouths assailing, her with accusations and pleas. The pulse of the drum did nothing to drown out their words. Murderers. Thieves. Liars.
“The people have spoken Tillie. They don’t want a King that doesn’t care about them. I know you have been appointed the Golden Queen and I approve.”
“Then why did you attack?” Tillesia struggled against the voices. They screamed in unison all wanting to be heard.
Finnrick tossed back his head and laughed. “Attacked? I’m freeing them.”
Two figures rose, covered in swirling black ichor. Her fallen soldiers, clad in armor steeped in ebony, stared at her with vacant eyes.
“You enslaved them?”
“On the contrary. They have never been freer.” Finnrick folded his arms. “Convince Yulos to join me, I need help containing this gift. I’d rather limit the spread to those that seek real freedom. I’ll bide my time and wait for you to see what good we can do for this rotten world. “
“You’ve gone mad Finnrick. This isn’t a power of good. IT needs caged, not embraced.” She pointed her sword at him.
“Oh? What does your heart say?”
“It says—” She froze and considered. No. This is wrong.
“But you gave it pause. I really meant your other heart.”
The drums stopped. Hagie’s arms sagged and her wooden drumsticks clattered to the ground.
“What did you do to her?” Tillesia spun around, taking in the fear of her soldiers. Black blood ran from their helmets and they screamed, the shadows devoured them and converted them in the same breath. Tillesia brandished her blade. “Finnrick. Stop this.”
“Negotiations are over Tillie,” Finnrick said. “Prost is free now. You are free to return to your people, if you honestly feel they are still your people. These ones have joined on their own free will?”
“Free will? You corrupted—”
“You have it wrong, Tille. Corruption lies in all men and women. While you see suffering, I see a mastery of their greatest fears.”
Her soldier’s voices joined the chorus. He had been right. Tillesia turned to Hagie, grabbed her by the shoulder and shook. “Stay with me. You were the one that inspired this, made it possible.
Hagie turned her sleepy gaze up to Tillesia and smiled showing a row of pointed teeth. The color drained from her face and gouts of shadow dribbled down her hair. “I’m free now. Please Golden Queen, share this freedom with the world.”