The old warrior grounds his sword, the palms of his hands on Mad Mountains' pommel. He closes his eyes and, for a moment, just breathes. This operation has been months in the making, weeks in the planning. Every detail was considered and discussed... except this. He did not write a speech. He did not weigh words like gemstones, balancing them, polishing them, shaping them into a manufactured thing. Even though this was the moment that he would speak the words that would either change the world or doom his cause to destruction, to prepare a script, as though he could not trust the words of his heart, would be a betrayal of everything he stood for. And besides which... he knew it was absolutely, totally unnecessary.
Because the words will come.
The thrill of battle has departed, and the aches and pains have settled in. Blood seeps onto the stone, joints and tendons burn, muscles twinge, and the weight of his years settles down on his body like a winter's snow weighing down the branches of a gnarled old oak. He will pay for the night's exertions later... but now, like the smell of spring after a rainstorm, an old, familiar feeling rises from the depths of his soul. He can feel it coming - the rising tide that lifts spirits bound together in common purpose. For the first time since Slayheim fell, he feels it - a force as undefinable, as intangible, but just as real as gravity. It swells his shoulders, straightens his spine, dawns a smile on his face. He knows it. He can feel it.
And in that moment, the tired old warrior rediscovers the Liberator within.
His eyes open and he stares forward, the picture of martial valour and confidence, hot winds stirring his hair in its warrior's tail as the fires blaze behind him. "I'm ready," Vinsfeld says, knowing the words will come.
A second later, energy surges outward from the Sorcery Globe, pulsing outward in a lightspeed wave. And all across Filgaia, in every pool of water, mirror, sword blade, and pot's bottom from the slums of Aveh to the heavens over Etrenank, the face of the Liberator appears, limned in fire, speaking words of revolution.
"To all the living souls of Filgaia - I bid you greetings."
"My name is Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus... and I suppose it is a name you may remember. A dozen years ago, I rose up against the tyrant who ruled my country, the land known as Slayheim. My people rose with me - ordinary women and men, unified in purpose. We fought to free ourselves, and our nation. To seize our future in our own hands. For the sake of our lovers, our children, our friends, and our companions, we fought. We triumphed. We dealt savage blows to our oppressors. But in the end... we were betrayed. And now the nation we fought so long and hard for is a lifeless husk, the earth salted, never to live again."
"After that betrayal... I admit to you, I was lost. I wandered from place to place, stumbling into each moment. At times, I wept. At times, I drank. I lived from moment to moment, drenched in sorrow, marking time until death came to claim me, and liberate me from the agony that drained my soul."
"But as I wandered... I also saw."
"I saw a man standing in a field that his father had worked, and his father before him, back through the generations into time immemorial. I saw him watch as the slow tide of a desert crept ever closer, yard by inexorable yard. I saw the moment that man knew his son would have no crop, no acreage, no home at all... just a sprawling death of sand, creeping ever westward."
"I saw a nation, bristling with ancient glories, machines not seen since the days of Zeboim, snatch up a neighbouring country in the name of 'protection.' And I saw that nation bite down like the vampires of legend onto the bones of that which was called Celesti, saw it suckle deep, drinking down even into the marrow... and then I saw those merchant princes laugh as vultures began to swoop around the corpse of a once-proud country."
"I saw a people living in the heart of the desert, a testament to the transcendent power of the human spirit. I saw a people who had thrown off dynastic rule in the name of a government led by one of their own... only to realize, far too late, that they had simply traded one slavemaster for another. And as they watched their wells dry up, as they lifted their voices in the meekest protest, I saw overseers summoned from the heavens, clothed all in white, raining death from the skies."
"I saw it all, and my heart ached."
"But even in the depths of despair, of discordia, I thought to myself - I have no reason to fight. Not again. These people are not mine - for my land, my people, are no more. But then, my sisters, my brothers, a question came into my mind. It began as an ember, as though a spirit had whispered it into my ear, and that fragmental glow has sparked a flame in me, birthed a purpose that has brought me once more onto the stage of our world. Four words only... but they are words that will change the course of history. Words I will speak to you now."
"Why are they not?"
"Think of it - why are they not my people? What natural law says they are not so? The borders of nations claim it, to be sure, but those are nothing but lines on a yellowing piece of paper, put there by the rich, the powerful, those who say the world belongs to them! The sermons of the priests say so... but as they take your tithes and promise paradise in the next life, what thought do the bishops give to the dying world we live in now? And so I asked myself - what have they, the rich and powerful, done with this world of ours? Your own eyes bear witness to their failure."
"I ask of you now, the so-called masters of Filgaia - kings and queens, nobles and merchants, priests and bishops - what have you done? While the deserts claim lands, while bandits and worse roam the countryside, ravaging those you have swore to protect? When ancient Demons from the depths of hell rose from their Metal graves to haunt us again - where were you? What did you do? Did you fight? Did you bleed? NO! No. You clutched your hands to your chest like frightened children, and prayed for someone, anyone, to make the darkness go away! For all your power, your wealth, your supposed superiority? YOU! DID! NOTHING!"
"And why? Because you were afraid for your life? Pfah! All who live know fear, know that the price our life holds in abeyance will one day come due. But you, the wealthy and powerful, you have convinced yourselves that you can barter with this inescapable reality, like the usurers you are, or shout it down like an unruly subject. But you are wrong. The price will come due all the same. And even if it did not, I ask you this - how can a man put a cost on saving the world? What price is too great to preserve life for the coming generations? Are you so greedy that you care nothing for what happens to the lands you claim as yours, so long as your skeleton is the last to bleach white in the sun?"
"Only one of you rose to the challenge of our times - Cecilia of Adlehyde, a young woman raised apart from her people. She did not know them, nor they her. But nevertheless, she lived up to the unspoken promise of her birthright - that she would stand, with all her power, between her people and desolation. Cecilia fought - as did her noble father. They paid in blood and fire for their service of this world... and for that, they have earned my utmost respect. In recognition of those efforts, both she and the people of Adlehyde have my word. Whatever follows will trouble you not at all, for your nation has chosen its leader, and she has served you well."
"But to the rest of you noble wretches, you misers, you moneychangers of life - you had your chance. You could have fought for reasons selfish or benevolent, for valour or from fear. But you did nothing. So now you shall be as nothing."
"To the people of Filgaia - hear my words, and measure them against the truths you have seen for yourselves. You have hoped for the so-called rulers of the world to save you and, but for one, they have hidden in their shells. You have prayed to gods and guardians alike for salvation, and your words have been a whisper on the wind."
"And so I declare - the lines on a tattered map are as worthless as the sand; the promises of fat priests are as empty as their souls. They have power only so long as you believe that they do. Cast their shallow words and lines aside, and you will realize the great truth their lies have concealed for hundreds of years."
"There are no gods. There are no masters."
"But you, my brothers and sisters - you who have known toil and suffering, who have tended the last, gasping breaths of your dying lands, who have fought back against the wilds. You have power. And it is long past time that the fate of this world was determined by those who are willing to fight for it."
"Thus do I, Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus, hereby declare war against all the nations of this world - save one. In the name of this army called Odessa, we will be the flame that burns the rot out of the tree that is Filgaia, and we will leave the heartwood strong. To the priests who have sided with the rich and powerful over the poor and needy - you shall face justice in this life, not the next. This crusade called Odessa shall shatter your false idols, and cast our defiance into the teeth of any god whose name you care to whimper."
"To the people of Filgaia, I also offer a word of caution. For you see, while I know the righteousness of our cause will prevail, I have also known war. And though the fattened geese lounging in the halls of wealth may think us weak... they soon will know our strength, our purpose, is all too real. So shall they turn fire and steel against us, seek to drown the world in the blood of the innocent rather than give up what they believe to be rightfully theirs."
"But even now, as they stand to lose everything, will they fight for themselves? No. Of course they will not - they will send others to bleed and die for them. Once more, they will sacrifice Filgaia's daughters and sons for the sake of their power. And when you see them do this, see them send your children against me, you will know my words to be truth."
"And so to those soldiers, to those women and men of valour, I say this: cast aside your old loyalties to king, to god, to line on a map. You have shown you are willing to fight for your world - so come to me, and fight for Odessa. For our people are all people, and your fight is ours."
"And a fight it shall be. The months and years ahead will be long. They will be hard. And I know, even as I take this first step with you, that I may not be so fortunate as to live in the world we have begun to set right. But I believe, as I know you do, that there is no cost too high to pay in exchange for the salvation of our world. For your homes. And for your children, your children's children, and so on until the end of time."
"So to you, my people - no longer must you cast your eyes downward, in submission, wondering whether you will feel a comforting hand on your shoulder or the rough rasp of a noose placed about your neck. Lift your hearts in joy, for now is your chance."
"Together, we will bend the arc of history toward the glimmer of hope that lies beyond the horizon. Together, we will shatter the corrupt world order. Together, we will seize power and use it to lift up the powerless. Together, we will save our broken world. "
"So join me.
Join me, and I will unshackle the chains that have bound you. Join me, and we will unleash our rage against the rulers of earth and heaven alike. Join me... and the blood we spill together will purify this tainted earth, and form the bonds of tomorrow's Filgaia."
Vinsfeld Rhadamanthus stares forward for a few moments longer, his shoulders rising and falling steadily, the swell of emotion slowly leaching out of him. And then he lifts Mad Mountains up with one hand, settling the massive blade over his shoulder, his eyeline drifting off-centre from the image. "It's done? Good." He nods and turns on his heel, walking toward the motes of flame and away from the image's focus. "Then let us go - there is so much to be done."
A wave of light erupts as Vinsfeld walks away.
In the last two years, waves of light from alien artifacts have not been strangers to Filgaia's Drifters. The one that the Sorcery Globe expands outward now is different. It crests and dips; it bends and moves. It has a wicked intellect behind it, guided to catch and draw away certain Drifters -- while foregoing Vinsfeld and his compatriots.
As the flash expands outward, over the horizon, predetermined individuals simply flash -- and leave vague outlines, before they are swept from the field. The killing fields at the heart of Elluria's ruins are soon swept clear of all save Vinsfeld, his chosen, and the rotting corpses.
DREAM CHASERS MUSH CHAPTER TWO: One Who Bares Fangs at God