Welcome back, my friends. Hope you’ve had a great week so far. If not, it’s halfway over, so there’s a silver lining. Since it’s Wednesday, that means writing! And today, that means more Jade! Today’s chapter is another character, and it’s a bit more brutal than what you’ve seen so far. Enjoy!
Chapter 9 “Antan”
The guard house was silent, save for an occasional crack or pop from the massive brazier that burned in the center of the room. Orange flickered over the stone-like faces of the gathered guards, dragon helms held under their arms as their eyes glinted in the fire glow. Antan stood with his back to the group, his own helm on a table next to him, his hair tied into a tight bun on the top of his head. He had gathered the guards, fifty-one of them, because of their loyalty to him, not the Emperor. They were Antan’s, devoted to him and his plan of domination. They would be his Storm Guard, an embodiment of the chaotic tempest that raged through his mind. A storm of conquest and brutality, madness and destruction. These men would be the first, battering wave of the oncoming flood that would sweep over the lands and create his empire.
“All of them, but one,” the thought crossed Antan’s mind like a whisper, turning his eyes to the far left end of the room. In the front row stood a tall, youth of a guard- just two months removed from his initiation. He had not been invited for his combat prowess, or his loyalty, or for any other redeeming quality, except his unwavering adherence to the Code of the Dragon Guard. With enough time and training, the boy would have made a worthy soldier. But that was not his fate. Antan had invited the youth to serve as an example-a means by which he could demonstrate his fury in front of his chosen, and offer a taste of the new empire. The right corner of his mouth curled slightly, a fleeting hint of a grin crossing his face.
“My empire…” He thought, savoring the way the words rang within his mind. He allowed himself another moment of self-indulgence before erasing his smile and stepping forward to his men. All traces of glee had vanished, replaced with a thoughtful scowl as his eyes scanned their faces.
“You have been summoned here because of the ember that glows within each of you. Though you may not know it, that ember is rage. It is fury. It is hatred. Of humanity, life, weakness, stagnation. It is a spark of action that will soon grow into a firestorm of cruelty and terror that will burn inside each of you until it is unleashed upon the world.” His hands began to tremble, a slight twitch in the tips of his fingers.
“I see this spark, smoldering in the pits of your souls, craving fuel. It longs to erupt. I see this, because the same fire burns within me. I have come to hate this life, full of its mindless peons, its powdered faces, the cackling joy that threatens to rot my mind.” He paused for a moment, watching for any hint of movement. The guards were motionless.
“I hate this palace, this empire. But most of all, I hate the Emperor-the Fallen Dragon, the oaf that would rather grow fat and soft, rather than harness his own rage into further domination! It sickens me. He is unfit as my Emperor. As your leader. His time is over.” Antan’s face twisted into a mask of hatred, his hands now shaking in fury as disgust poured from him.
“A new age is upon us, the Age of Storm, with me as its Great Dominator. You shall be my vanguard, the edge of the terrible blade that will rend the souls of the free. You will be my fists as I crush the masses that live without fear. You will live and die by my command, the first to draw blood and the last to fall. You will be my Storm Guard, my chaotic sons of fury. Are there any amongst you who object to my blessing?” He spoke the final question in an icy whisper, his slate eyes hard as he looked from face to face. From his left came movement, his eyes shooting to the side, watching the youth step forward.
“And so it begins,” the words burned through his mind, sending a jolt of excitement down his spine as strode over to the guard. He was a lanky boy-tall and skinny with a squashed nose and small ears that stood out from the sides of his head. He stood straight-backed and motionless, avoiding his master’s eyes, just as the code demanded. Antan smiled a mirthless smile, lustful hatred beginning to build within him.
“What is your name, son?” Antan’s voice was light, almost jovial as he looked into the guard’s eyes.
“Junichi, my lord.”
“Ah, Junichi. Tell me, do you disagree with what I have said here tonight?” Antan remained innocuous, the smile still stretched across his face.
“No, my lord.”
A brief flicker of annoyance twitched in the corner of Antan’s mouth.
“What is this boy playing at?” He brushed the faltering thought away, recovering instantly and continuing his questions. “Well then, why did you step forward?”
“My lord, the Emperor may be fat, and soft, and unfit as you say. But we swore an oath to protect him when we received our Dragon Helms. Die for the Dragon, Bleed for the Man. Fight for the–”
Antan’s smile twisted into a snarl and his voice-deep and full of malice-erupted past his lips, silencing the guard’s words.
“I know!” He spat, eyes boring into the boy as his fists clenched. “Not yet,” his mind warned, holding his wrath at bay. He relaxed slightly, fingers relaxing as he brought his hands behind his back, forcing the rage from his face. “I know the oath, Junichi.” Antan smiled again, but his eyes were hard, glinting with hatred and anticipation. “After all, I did write it. And, I gave you that Dragon Helm you speak of.” He nodded, dropping his eyes to the floor in front of him as he took a step, beginning to pace around the boy. “What you say is correct. I cannot fault you. You are noble and honorable, both fine qualities of a Dragon Guard.”
“Thank you, my lo-aauughh!” The boy’s words transformed into a pained shriek as the Master kicked the side of the guard’s knee. Junichi collapsed-tendons snapping as his leg buckled. He pitched forward, his arms flailing at his sides as his face struck the floor, shattering his nose. Antan stepped over the boy and drew his katana from its sheath, the familiar metallic ring of steel piercing through the room like the crack of a whip.
“My lord, I don’t understand.” The small-eared guard turned his head to look up. The Master stood over him, a vision of pure evil fury. His katana gleamed in the torchlight, a mask of contempt darkening his face. Muscles bulged from the sides of his neck, and a single drop of sweat fell down the side of his face.
“One does not lightly discard a blessing from Antan Stormbringer.” Antan’s voice began as an icy whisper, growing in strength and malice with each word. “The days of the Dragon are over. Those who wish to follow him need only lower your head behind this filth. As for you, young Junichi, beg for your life.” His voice boomed throughout the room, drawing out each word to show his men the frigid darkness that radiated from within him, cold enough to make the torches shiver. The fire light seemed to avoid the Master, terrified to cast any warmth on a man so cold. The guard began to sob, his breath catching in his throat as he tried to lift himself to his knees.
“P..p..please m..m..my lord! Have m..m..mercy!” His voice was shrill and grated on Antan’s mind. The guard choked and sobbed in front of the Master. Blood sputtered and bubbled from his lips, tears mixing with the rivers of scarlet before they fell onto his tunic. Antan felt sick, his hatred of the boy churning his stomach, seizing around his chest. He could no longer stand to watch the boy’s blabbering. It wasn’t pity that revolted him-it was the boy’s weakness. His pathetic, feeble mewling. Antan spat at the guard, and in one fluid motion, brought the katana down just above the Junichi’s shoulders. The steel cut through the air with a singing whisper before the razor edge sliced into the boy-severing skin, muscle and bone with an astonishingly brutal ease. The head bounced across the floor as the body flopped forward, a spray of blood cascading over Antan’s boots. With a contemptuous sneer, he leaned down and grasped the boy’s head, holding it by the hair as he turned to the other guards.
“This is what I will eliminate from the empire-sniveling, sickening, disgusting weakness. I will ask again, are there any amongst you who object to my blessing?” The room was silent, save for the wet drip, drip, drip of blood from Junichi’s head, and the muted pops of the brazier. Antan almost wished for another to step forward. Killing the boy had whetted his appetite for bloodshed, and he itched to further paint his blade crimson. There was no movement to be seen. Allowing himself the briefest moments of dismay, he smiled, looking out over his faithful. He took a step back, releasing the head and letting it fall to the floor. It struck the tile with a wet thud, rolling a short distance before coming to a stop, lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling.
“There are just over four weeks until the Feast of the Jade Moon.” He returned his hands behind his back, pacing away from his men as he spoke. “That is when we will strike. That is when we will unleash the storm. Remember, you are the chosen. You are the elite.” He paused, turning to face his guards. Pride and fury gleamed within his eyes, exhilaration flooding throughout his body. He drew himself up to his full height, jaw clenching from barely contained power. “You will be feared. You will leave nightmare and destruction in your wake. Death itself will tremble at your fury. You will raze this world until the very land weeps. You are my Storm Guard!” Antan grew silent, his words ringing against the walls as he let his eyes linger on the military perfection in front of him. Eyes full of fire stared back at him. He could sense their fury. It fed his bloodlust, causing his chest to heave from a euphoric high. He allowed the silence to stretch a few moments, controlling his pleasure just enough to nod and whisper a command.
“You are dismissed.” His voice was a raspy bark, ragged yet full of power. As one, the guards bowed and began to file out of the room. He bent down and picked up the body of Junichi by the bloody collar of his leather tunic. He dragged it across the floor toward the brazier, painting a trail of blood across the tile. With ease, he lifted the body off the ground, eyeing it with a hateful stare before tossing it onto the brazier. In a matter of seconds, the guard’s clothes burst into flame, flaring brightly before spreading to skin and bone. Antan looked on, staring into the flames. He held his hands held behind his back, shadows dancing across his face as his eyes glinted against the orange tongues cast up from Junichi.
“The first of many.” He whispered to the flames, watching the body blacken.