Turning Point

The world had changed in the two hundred and fifty years that the Company lay unconscious. Only a dozen awakened. Their immediate impulse was retribution – their blood thirst not subdued by their rest. Aeron managed to bring them to a restrained rationality: “lets understand what happened to us before we do anything else.”

The lands outside the Empire – where the Nomads were continually pushed back by King Statton’s anexation – have come to a peace, lead by Queen Samiya. Anyone who looks or speaks strangely is assumed to be a tollerated visitor from those distant lands, and so that’s the guise the Company fall into without realising it.

In this state, they can learn some information.

The Church is no longer a second column of the Monarchy. They’re a tool with few people involved. Religion is practised only to the extent that the new Royal family think is required to keep the gods happy. There are a few devout civilians, but they keep it quiet and meet in basements to worship. The Taleb family saw the power of the Church all that time ago, and worried it could rise again.

Curios like the “shadowhearts” disappeared with the Fourth Company, the Knight Watchmen made sure of that. Immediately following the seizure of the Eastern Barracks, there were two decades of stamping out any sign of mystism. Since then, the Knight Watchmen have shrunk in number and is largely a ceremonial title for royals. They still train to be rather good at their job though.

Aeron and the Fourth Company begin to understand their legacy: people-farmers of demonic stories. They’re no longer thought of as loyal soliders who built the Realm. They’re the villains who brought about decades of darkness.

Aeron takes his news differently from his followers. He sees the darkness they left behind, slowly learning where he went wrong. They feel robbed. And they’re ready to take back what was once theirs. The humans – a distinction the Fourth make readily now, but Aeron does not – have weapons against them. They need to find more of their number. They remember, although distantly, a man that was like them visiting once. There must be others out there. And they must feel the same way.

Aeron needs to decide how to fix this.

The Last Knight

Aeron is still in the midst of the thawing of his soul. Was it love that did this to him? Time away from his Company? Whatever it was, his focus these days is almost entirely on trying to break the blood thirsty thought cycle that his mind keeps bringhing him back to.

(Stable Diffusion. I guess the Sword of the Order of Knights is pretty big.)

He thought before he might become weaker, for not hunting as much as his brothers and sister are, but that’s just flat out not true. Could it be that his need for human blood is just an addiction, inflicted on him by the shadowpack that attacked him? Like a rabies victim’s terror of water or the way taxoplamosis makes mice seek out their own predator.

Realising the addiction wasn’t even the first step to kicking it though. It’s been decades of this now and his neural pathways are all messed up. The addicition lives within him and sometimes he fails.

He’s surrounded by others, who he loves for one reason or another. They wouldn’t understand. They still revel in it. How can he make them see?

Aeron is thinking on this in a part of the Barracks he’s rarely visited of late. Once again away from those he lives with. There he finds a bunch of his old possessions, including an icon that used to mean so much to him. He’d entirely forgetten it existed.

The Sword of the Order of Knights is given to those the King appointed. Since there has been no King, there have been no new appointments. The Realm has been without knights for some time now. Aeron struggles to remember any that came after him. Could this sword have been the last made for the Order? If so then all the other Knights by now would have died, of old age if nothing else. That certainly would make him The Last Knight.

Whilst lost in this thought, the door smashes open, bouncing off the stone wall. Three Company men barrel in almost falling over each other. To Aeron, the image looked exactly as one he remembered fifty or sixty years ago. Then they had more colour in their cheeks and their eyes didn’t have the darkness behind them that they do now. Still, their boyish grins of youth were the same.

“There you are – you’ll want to see this. We found Krishna Youssef. You remember her? From Taleb’s lot.”

He gives an order to them to wait nearby – that he’ll deal with her himself. His captive, Amandla, had given no information up at all. But Krishna had been a thorn in his side for her entire life. She must be an old lady now. He’d feel no issues about pulling information from her.

To his relief, the men follow his orders. The first he’d made in some time.

This was a mistake.

The girl knew somehow. She was waiting. His men wouldn’t have known. He’d begin to doubt their morals, but not their trustworthiness. Maybe her and Taleb’s rebellion had more eyes and ears than he realised. Either way, Aeron was shot as soon as he entered.

The bullet pierced his chest, hitting his heart. He pulled it out, misidentified it as lead, and then dispatched them all. There, he assumed Krishna has failed.

At some point Aeron will figure out that the bullet was godbless opal; a practice that was only known to be used by the Church and impossible for Krishna to have come up with it on her own. (Meddling by Lain, maybe?) They had spent decades trying to weaponise these opals and it seems they’ve finally succeeded.

Between that and the arrogance of the Fourth Company, the element of surprise was enough to subdue them. Most refused to die though. Instead they fell into a coma and everyone hoped they’d never wake from it.

Holy binding was placed around the Barrack’s dungeon levels, sealing the Fourth within.

It took two hundred and fifty years before Aeron broke out. It seems that some of the pack did die inside their tomb: some from their wounds where the opal bullet was shattered or lodged, but some from no clear cause at all. Could it be they take that long to starve to death?

The world has entirely changed. Of note from the above though is Assim. It seems Taleb left behind an heir.

And then…

A Shade Off Black

The week before Sir Aeron finally felt ready to head back to the Barracks he was informed that “his guest” was waiting for him in the games room. Confused, expecting no visitors today, he enters to find a gaunt woman sitting at the chessboard. Her hair matted, and in patches missing, showing grey scalp beneath. A pale bruise covered the back of her withered hand as she set up the board. Even after she spoke, Aeron barely remembered his old friend-turned-tool.

Afterwards, he sent a runner to check her grave and it was exactly how it should be. Well entombed and undistrubed. The runner’s boats were the first to disturb the dust there in decades – the grave of an old bishop’s wife, nearly thirty years after her death, was forgotten.

Between feeling the warmth of Lady Morelli, staying in his childhood home, and now hearing the meloncholy promise of his murder, something might have changed with Sir Aeron. Maybe.

He returned to his new home to cheers of joy from the Fourth Company. They had many stories to fill him in on. The extravaganza of Hunts they’d done without him. Their macabre enthusiasm called his malevolance to the for once again, and he tried to put his home stay behind him. The holiday for his soul was over.

His character wasn’t tested again a few weeks later, when a name he recognised was pulled from the Hunt Hat.

It’s not like Everet Bening is a particularly important person to Aeron. But…

Aeron couldn’t make a case for the man. What was he supposed to tell his bloodthirsty brothers and sisters? That he’d met a woman and she’d probably not like it if her friend was eaten. No. The Fourth Company was heartless. Aeron knew that. He knew it when he tasted the Dust and felt their hearts as if he shared them.

His men all pledged loyalty. But after so many decades, the pledge sounded routine. They were all strong. Some of them stronger than him, Aeron was sure. Especially of late, when he’d fed only in uncontrolled bursts – but not in the way he used to. Not for some time. Would these men and women follow him, if he needed them to? Now wasn’t the time to figure that out, he decided, worried about the answer.

So Everet was moved to the cabin that Aeron had built recently near the Dust farm.

It was isolated but infinitely better than being holed up in hell. The hunt for him continues though, and it likely would never end until one of them finds him.

Some luck in the hunt for Taleb and the girl (now a full, grown woman, of course) that had entered into cahoots with him.

Amandla was found with anti-Company propaganda that looked to have been written by Taleb, or one of his followers. Frustratingly, it seemed that a number of people now whispered about Taleb and the Krishna girl.

The rest of the Fourth know of it, and hunt them down as if playing cops and robbers, but there’s something worrying Aeron about it. He’s kept this Amandla girl safe, away from the eyes of the Fourth as they’ll surely just off her.

The unusual thing though is that his method of information gathering is quite subdued. He’s not hurt the girl. Everet has been instructed to feed her and make sure she’s well. What the heck is Aeron playing at?

We Cannot Bear The Dark

Sir Aeron’s heart isn’t entirely blackened.

It was a woman who gave him a bit of respite from the gloom of his own making. He’d heard about her through Court, and then began writing to her. Lady Morelli was born up north somewhere as the daughter of a butcher’s assistant and loom repairer and so she shouldn’t have amounted to anything. Somehow she found skill as a hair dresser and came across a generous client of higher standing, and her reputation grew from there. Her advice on hair styling (which she knews a great deal of) and fashion (which she can make up on the spot) meant that she soon came to the attention of the upper classes.

Her next challenge was to befriend Sir Aeron himself, as he was the oldest and most respected member of the Round Table.

With no one arround him to question the peculiar decision, he hands over the keys to Cambridge House which she holds on to and takes as her own. Aeron doesn’t mind all that much – his home is the Barracks.

In this time of relative peace – weeks where hunting for blood is only done as needed – he begins to write down some of his story. Maybe he’ll show it to her one day. For now, he keeps the piece private. Having written down how he came to be the way he is, he folds the pages and hides them in his belongings.

The next time he looks, the front, loose endpaper has been written on. “We Cannot Bear The Dark.”

He didn’t write this title. He has no idea what it means. But the handwriting is his. The quill and ink the same style. His finger print smudges the ink.

Some of this time away from his kin was spent chasing tales that Welles had told him about Dust. It’d be hard to come by – he’d found very little of it for himself. Welles himself has about a coin pouch worth of the stuff; Aeron remembered it well. It stuck in his memory like an itch. This chasing took him well outside of the Realm’s lands, into the unmapped and inhospitible desserts. He found some luck though.

It’s impossible to knew who planted this farm. It doesn’t occur to Aeron to think on it. But it might do him well to consider that it was not an accident that the Dust gathers so well here.

Burn Bright, Briefly

The Council of the Round Table have clung to stagnation for long enough.

Empty seats have been left unfilled, the Monarch’s throne especially conspicuous. The Empire’s lands are being held, but expansion has stopped. King Statton’s light burnt bright but dirty – his rule brought comfortable prosperity but that stability could not last.

The problems for the Council began the moment the first of the coal mines ran dry.

Our warden of the Barracks at the Easern Front has only grown in strength, politically. His physical attendance at Council was rare, nonetheless amongst the circles of people who mattered there was very little resistance against him. By this time he has all but forgotten his Lain, a key tool of his at the time, but now the Church had moved on without her and her husband, leaving behind the traditions she had encouraged.

Within the Barracks the Fourth Company grow restless and have to find ways to entertain themselves.

Within the isolated walls are the first generation who have grown into adulthood, knowing only the darkness of their “military” leaders. To this new generation, the dark creatures that toy and prey on them are not supernatural. On the contrary, they’re just a way of life. The feeling of being a prey creature shrinks their souls. They understand their purpose in this world, and find know pity in it.

The people outside of the those walls have no pity for them either – but only because they have no idea that hell is just a few days ride away. No word escapes. At least, not until someone found a way.

It seems Tabel is more of a concern than Sir Aeron realises, and their motivation no longer appears to be entire political. There are now two people within the walls who have managed to find a fire within them, and that can’t be good news for the Fourth.