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Her manacles tensed as someone grabbed the chain and began to lead her out of the cell. She had lost track of the days she had been kept down here in the dark. Nothing but the pain and bleeding from her bound wrists reminding her that she was still alive. It was a wonder she had held on this long. Countless barely-touched food bowls covered the floor around her. The walls were covered in scratches and blood stains, remnants of her futile attempts to claw her way out. Nonetheless, she still lived, even if it was only as a shadow of what she once was. As the guard continued walking, she stumbled to her feet and out of the cell.
Murmurs and whispers erupted from the surrounding cells as she was brought to the upper levels of the prison. “General Tygna!” “Is that her…” “What happened to her?” “Where is she going?” She didn’t react to any of it. She simply kept her eyes on the floor, her once lustrous scarlet hair now falling limply like a torn veil around her face. There was no purpose in reacting. No use in giving the captive soldiers any sense of false hope. They all knew the battle had been lost and the war was over. They all knew that their gods had abandoned them. That the great Riyala Tygna had fallen.
They climbed higher now, back towards the surface. Stealing a quick glance forwards, Tygna could see that it was not just one guard leading her, but three. Her mouth curled in the slightest smirk. Even when defeated and chained she still warranted an honor guard. As they stepped out of the Rehanian prison, Tygna was surrounded with the yelling and jeers of crowds of onlookers. They cried out for the death of the witch queen, for the end of the she-devil, hurling the many epithets and rumors that all of Rehan had been taught about her. She kept her head down, eyes on her bare feet, the sunlight illuminating all of the scars and bruises she had gained. At the least they let her keep her cloth rags on. They had some decency, somewhere in their frozen hearts.
As she was marched through the streets, now surrounded by even more guards and onlookers, Tygna reflected on how she had gotten here. She thought of the rise of the Noventhum rebellion, when her and her followers were still fresh faced and idealistic. Of how they had won initial successes against Rehan and their God-King, Agrandus. Of how, for a moment, it seemed like they might be able to tip the scales. Of how, in the end, they fell, the last true children of Noventhum.
When the Rehanians first arrived, many in Noventhum did not consider their arrival too great a concern. As powerful as their armies and technologies may have been, the Gods of Noventhum had long protected their land from outside invaders, and all believed they would do so again. The Noventhese claimed that Noventhum wielded the magic of the Gods and therefore could not lose to any sort of new invention, for what is stronger than the Gods? Who was quicker than Lethaniel, maiden of the woods? Smarter than Kalia, witch-queen of the arcane? Stronger than Jadus, the Sun-King? It might be difficult, but in the end they would prevail.
The Rehanians, though, were not turned back. Their hell-cannons rained fire and death upon the forests of Noventhum and their toxic fumes choked out the soldiers sent against them. Battle after battle, they pushed forwards, all of the Rehanian soldiers shouting praises of their God-King as they slaughtered the Noventhum people where they stood. Those who lived, they clapped in chains. The dead were left unburied.
The Noventhum people cried out to their Gods, only to find their prayers unanswered. Some claimed the Gods had abandoned them, others that they had grown over complacent. The faithless among them said that their Gods were dead, or had never really cared for them in the first place. The treasonous believed that the Rehanian God-King had proved his superiority, and should be worshipped in their stead. It seemed that all of Noventhum had lost their faith. When the Rehanian God-King took Kazan, the capital city of Noventhum, it felt like that was it.
Except, there was one group that would not bend the knee to any foreign god. The Crimson Monks of Kerelak, the Steel King, servants of the God of Vengeance, refused to acknowledge the God-King as anything other than a pretender to a throne he had no right to even look at. Riyala Tygna had been an acolyte just before the invasion began, studying the ways of battle, from the sword to tactics to hand-to-hand combat. When Kazan fell, she was stricken. Kazan was her home. Kazan was the home of Noventhum. Without it...what were they?
It was her elder, Ilenti, that helped her through her despair. Ilenti proclaimed that this invasion, that the deaths and conquest, were not just any old tragedy, but instead a trial. Her trial. The trial by fire that all acolytes of The Steel King must undergo, just as the Steel King underwent his trial, fighting as a gladiator in the plane of fire before he became a God. Tygna often wondered how Ilenti knew that she was meant to take on this trial herself. She often wonders if she didn’t know and merely hoped. Regardless, Tygna had decided that she would bear this weight for her nation and her Gods. Through the flames of Rehan and the God-King, she and Noventhum would rise. There was simply no other choice.
At first, it was only the monks, and even then, only those that would listen to her. She was still fairly new by the time she was beginning the revolution, and there were those traditionalists, led by an old monk, Ichtra, who believed that the Steel King would not place his faith in a woman. So, she turned to those who had always welcomed her: The people of the streets who she had grown up among. Before becoming an acolyte, she had spent a lot of time running the streets, stealing and bartering where she could, fighting where she couldn’t. She turned to old contacts, called in old favors, people who’s shops she had kept safe and whose lives she had saved, building up a small network of voices who weren’t too keen on the God-King and his new policies. He had already closed the temples to the Gods of Noventhum, and he had begun to force any captured citizens of Noventhum to work in chains. Aside, of course, from those that submitted to him as the one true God. Bastard.
Her contacts among the city streets soon brought her into talks with some of the bandit clans in the surrounding areas, as well as bringing her into contact with the military members that had managed to stay free of Rehanian clutches. Of course, the other monks that were with her weren’t just sitting around. They were running in the shadows, pulling on any malcontents they could find, family, old friends, comrades from days gone by, the whole lot. Meanwhile, she continued her internal battles with Ichtra. He certainly claimed to be against Rehan, and yet at every opportunity he worked against Tygna, delivering conflicting orders to people, telling his monks to enforce their authority when they could over the monks aligned with Tygna, and doing everything in his power to be a massive bother. So, she did what any good leader would do in such a circumstance. She punched him in the face, told him to get in line or just turncoat already, and moved on. He was quiet after that.
Over the course of a few months, they built. Then, they began to strike. Targeted raids on trading and supply caravans. Attacking warehouses in the city. Killing guard patrols. They lost people of course, but they stayed strong. Tygna made sure to visit every rebel cell within the city as often as she could to keep hopes high. Eventually, they grew too large to stay in just one city. Ilenti had been reaching out to the Kerelakian monasteries in the other cities, from Dunhal to Vana Lashan. They had heard of Tygna’s efforts in Kazan and had begun to build rebel cells within their own cities. As they built up, Tygna and her band began to move south, out of the city and into the forests. It was dangerous to stay in Kazan, so close to the heart of Rehan’s power in the area. They left in small groups, doing their best to stay as under the radar as possible, even as the guards were on high alert for rebel activity. They moved south, and set up a series of camps in the southern reaches of the forests. It was then that the Noventhum rebellion began in earnest.
Caravan raids and warehouse robberies turned to village raids and guerilla warfare against the Rehanian army. Riyala’s people, slowly being turned into a proper army, followed her on raid after raid, seeing her emerge from each one almost entirely unscathed, a whirlwind of steel and flaming red hair. Some began to call her Kerelak come again. There were some who even began to call her the Steel Queen, though she quickly rejected the title. She was barely willing to accept General. She was simply Tygna. An acolyte of the Steel King.
It was after the battle at Dunhal that it all went to shit. In a shocking turn of fortune, the Noventhum Rebels had managed to take back the city of Dunhal from Rehanian troops through a coordinated attack between the rebel cell inside the city and the army outside. Both sides were stunned. Tygna had led the charge for the gates and she was still shocked when her and her council met within the war chamber of the castle. They...they could really win against Rehan. They could make a difference. Ichtra had even come out of the woodwork to congratulate her. They were already planning their next move. Some of her captains suggested careful moves, going after strategic resources and settlements. Others wanted to shore up their defenses and rest for a moment. But Tygna felt a tugging in her stomach, a pull towards Kazan. She declared that they would take back their home. That now was not the time to wait and plan, but to strike. A brave idea. But a foolish one.
It happened while they were camped near Kazan, hidden in the forest. A surprise attack by the Rehanian army in the dead of the night. Riyala had tried to muster her troops, but it was too late. The Rehanians had known where they were. Someone had leaked their location. They had been betrayed. The God-King himself, shining in his golden chariot, had even made an appearance. Tygna swore he smiled at her as the explosions knocked her out and destroyed her army.
They had been marching for some five minutes now. With the few glances she had stolen through her hair she could finally tell that she was being paraded down the streets of Kazan. Far different circumstances than she had planned to enter the capital city under. The jeers had only grown louder as she marched onwards. Calls for death, threats of an unspeakable nature, a particularly brutal description of what would happen to all the Noventhum Rebels, all of it on repeat. She simply marched on. There was nothing they could say that would hurt her anymore. Nothing that would hurt more than watching everything she built crumble.
They were coming up on the central square. No doubt Agrandus planned to make her judgement and execution a public spectacle. The abject failure of the rebel general. The weakness of the Gods of Noventhum. The insurmountable power of Rehan and their God-King. Her body was to be a monument, a testament to Agrandus for the rest of his reign. It was enough to make her vomit, if she had anything in her to vomit up that was.
She heard the square before she saw it. There was a roaring crowd, a veritable swarm coming to see her demise. Looking up briefly she saw a sea of people around her, with an aisle cut through them that led towards a raised wooden dais. She could just make out the golden boots of the King before she ducked her head down again. No use in looking at the faces. They were all the same anyway. The wooden steps creaked as she was led up to the platform, before being kicked down to her knees. She stayed silent. She refused to give them the satisfaction of doing any more hurt to her. She felt someone grab her hair and wrench her head up to stare at the crowd. She didn’t have to look to know who it was. Agrandus would not have her hide her face in his moment of glory. As her head lifted, the crowd grew quiet. Agrandus began to speak, his words dripping like poisoned honey, deep and resonant, full of the arrogance and self-righteousness known only to men who believe themselves to be above all others.
“My people! It is with a joyous heart that I inform you that before you kneels the she-devil of Noventhum herself; Riyala Tygna is ours!” A cheer erupted from the crowd, before silencing almost immediately afterwards. “Even now, our brave Rehanian troops are rooting out the last of the rebel cells still active. Their camps lie in ruins and the settlements that aided them in ashes. The false idols these savages worshipped were no match for the One True God!” Another roar from the crowd. The bastard let them go on for a few seconds with this one before continuing. “Yes, my children, it is as you know. I alone am the God of Man, the incarnate of all that is good and just. No false idols could have ever hoped to stand up to he who commands the sun, least of all the gods of such impotent savages!” As he said savages he yanked her hair back again to the great entertainment of the crowd. “Soon they shall all see the error of their ways and commit their worship to one who is deserving of it. But before that can occur, we will show them what happens when one forgets their place and turns against the True God.” With that, he let her head fall once again and stepped back. She saw the heavy black boots of the executioner next to her. So this was it. Beheaded in front of a roaring crowd in what was once the capital of her nation. So be it.
The axe raised. She took a breath. The axe fell. And yet, she wasn’t dead? She felt the cold steel cut through her neck, felt the blood begin to seep from her head, but other than that, she felt fine. Stronger even. Her head certainly still felt attached. Peering through her ragged hair, she looked into the crowd to see if anyone had noticed when she saw him. Red-skinned, clad in a steel breastplate and faulds, arms wrapped in chains, nothing but glowing red eyes peering out of a steel helmet. The Steel King. His eyes pierced her to the bone and she knew. Knew that at the end of this she would be dead. But what happened in the meantime was up to her. And just like that, she heard the chains holding her snap.
She became a blur of motion. With one arm she sent a chain flying around the executioner's legs and yanked, sending him crashing to the ground and letting the axe fall loose, now fully passed through her neck. With the other she cast a wide arc that sent the soldiers that had escorted her tumbling off of the platform, sending them sprawling onto the ground. The crowd, at first stunned silent, now erupted into a panic, crying out about the undead and the witch-queen. She paid them no heed. They were nothing. Looking at the executioner, she was shocked to find him familiar. It was Ichtra, the bastard. Apparently he hated her so much that he had decided in the end to go turncoat. And now, he earned a steel chain through the forehead.
Leaving Ichtra’s body behind, she turned to face the once imposing form of Agrandus, God-King of Rehan. He was now cowering, his pale face stricken pure white, eyes wide in terror. He stammered breathlessly as she approached, “You...you were dead! Your head was off! You have no right to be alive, you savage she-devil! I am THE God! You can never-” Whatever Tygna could never do she would never know. Before he could finish she whipped the chains around his neck and pulled him close, getting behind him to watch the city with him.
She looked out to the prison where she had been kept and saw it had erupted into flames. Just as she started to worry about her soldiers imprisoned within, she heard the war cries. Not the typical Noventhum war cries, but ancient ones, dedications to The Steel King that were only invoked in the heat of rage and vengeance. Evidently, she was not the only one visited by the Steel King that day. She saw her soldiers pouring through the streets, cutting down the panic-stricken Rehanian guards. She saw the civilians that had called for her blood, who had degraded them as nothing but backwards savages, wailing in fear, sprinting away from the grim host that approached. She saw Kazan, City of Noventhum, cleansing itself of the Rehanian infestation. She got down close and whispered to Agrandus, “You are a fool Agrandus. We are Noventhum. And we bow to no invader’s God.” And with that she pulled the chains hard, and the Immortal God-King of Rehan fell dead, his neck broken, a dead man on the stones of Kazan.
Riyala Tygna, General of the Noventhum Rebellion, Slayer of the God-King of Rehan, fell to her knees, the supernatural vitality that had filled her quickly fading away. Through the blurring of her vision she once again saw the red-skinned, steel clad figure of The Steel King staring at her and, almost imperceptibly, nodding. She raised her fist to her chest in one last salute, before falling backwards, a monument to the might of Noventhum.