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Ralph Nicholls

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The Death of Bertram Hildegarde
By Ralph Nicholls
Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Ralph Nicholls
· Fighting the Good Fight
· Saddle Sore
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Following General Amon's ignominious defeat at the encampment of Elgin Wood, Taal Zodo, who has been otherwise occupied trying to complete his absolute enslavement of the world of New Urth/Nor'Ova, returns to Capa City, the city governed by his new urthen nemesis, Lord Grentzen Estabon (yes, it's a rather unusual and unimaginative name for a barbarian chieftain; but then i didn't make it up. And "Grentz", as he is frequently called, wasn't always a barbarian...) finds his despotic kingdom in utter disarray. Those dissident rebels known as the Underground Resistance Movement have proven impossible to ferret out of their secret hidey holes. And an unknown, and unidentifiable, assassin-vigilante has slain one of his elite vanguard, the Rubemeisters, inspiring a whole rash of similarly mystifying Rube slayings. The populace of Capa City is too large and the number of Rubemeisters Taal Zodo deems absolutely worthy of his trust are too few.

The Rubemeisters are puzzled by and enangered by their Master's inability or unwillingness to provide to them everything he promised would be theirs when they accepted the Master's invitation to become members of the Rubemeistry. The decadent nobility is angry that the Rubemeistry (which they wrongly view as being the militant arm of the Church of the Holy Body) and the City Watch ( the local constabulary body) are treating them like second class citizens. The able bodied members of the gentry are being press ganged into the Church of the Holy Body's dark and unholy army. And even the vagrants who live in the dilapidated hovels in the Docks District aren't safe from harassment, incarceration, and possible (probable) public execution.

The Rubemeistry is too preoccupied with dragging the sprawling metropolis' nobles and commoners alike out into the streets in the dead of night, performing unlawful searches and seizures of any weapon that can be used by the people against them. The members of the City Watch, harried by the merciless Rubemeisters are also are also performing unlawful searches and seizures, conducting illegal interrogations and summarily executing private citizens on suspicion that they might be harboring members of the criminal organization, the Underground Resistance Movement or even the mysterious Rubeslayer (who this is no one knows. There were no reliable witnesses to the first Rubemeister slaying. And reports of his, or her, vengeful activities are far too numerous, in far too many different locations throughout the city, to be the work of just one individual) himself or herself, alone.

Without the City Watch to try and keep them in cheque the criminal element scattered throughout Capa City are running rampant. Burnings, looting's, rapes, murders....crime is at an all-time high. Even the infamous Caperean crime kingpin and terrorist Bosco and his organization has gone into hiding.

Pushed far past the point of stark terror and fear for their lives and immortal souls the peoples of Capa City, and of all the known world are looking for a Savior. The long awaited returning of the promised Paraclete to come and rescue them.

But more immediately they're looking for some one, anyone, to be made to be paid for the unthinkable crimes and atrocities visited upon them.

Taal Zodo has promised to come and rescue them, he has promised to end the terror and oppression, he has promised to deal with the Church of the Holy Body. He has promised to bring the seemingly mad Rubemeisters back into line and stop the City Watch from abusing their power they were given by Capa City's erstwhile governor, Grentzen Estabon. He has promised to expose and punish the URM (Underground Resistance Movement) and to bring the arch criminal known only as the Rubeslayer to heel.

Taal Zodo has delivered on none of these promises. Now, he must seek out and find a suitable scapegoat. Searching around and looking at the city's mandatory taken citywide registry he finds the ideal patsy.

Who better to point to to answer for these crimes committed against the people of Capa City than one of their own most decorated former war heroes. A man who since the mysterious disappearance of the much beloved Grentzen Estabon has become one of the most feared and reviled men in the entire city: Captain of the City Watch, Bertram Hildegarde....

Captain of the Watch, Bertram Hildegarde, strolled purposely along the corridors that led the way to his private suites of apartments on the third floor of the former mayor's mansion. His mood was sour and it showed in the stiff-legged gait with which he made his way along, his harried-looking seneschal, Gustov, following hard on his ironshod heels. The Captain carried a grotesque-looking greathelm braced under his swordarm and he walked with his regal head held high as he made his way along. The Captain would have been a handsome man, but for the perpetual sneer on his otherwise finely drawn lips, the coldness of his dove grey eyes, and his deeply furrowed brow. Captain Hildegarde was a deeply troubled; one might even say haunted, man; and anyone with any observation skills whatsoever could plainly see it. And he'd only become more so in the last several hours. Every since the report of the first Rubes slaying crossed his desk and he'd first begun to hear perfectly absurd rumours being bandied about by the soldiery under his stern command. Some of them said that a heretofore unknown assassin working out of Bosco's Winery had conducted the slaying. But Hildegarde knew this was ludicrous. The slaying had taken place in broad daylight and in one of the most densely populated areas in the Theatrical District of Capa City. There'd been an un-estimate able number of witnesses to the slaying. Not exactly the way the Winery's assassins conducted themselves,...And yet no one could agree upon a description for the culprit; or culprits. Some said there'd been a young Human woman, dressed in the attire of a Journeyman of the Church of Mogen David, in this same area and that she was somehow involved in the slaying. Some held this was impossible as she'd been seen in the company of some famous bard and street performer; Falconetti Somethingorother,..., that very same hour. Some held that it was impossible for either of them to have been involved in the slaying, as they'd both been involved in a riot at the now defunct Stolid Elf not a quarter of a watch, later. One who executed one of Taal Zodo's Rubes would not then hie him; or themselves away, only to become involved in; or even instigate a full-scale riot in one of the busiest eateries in all the District. It was madness. And yet no less mad than the madness that seemed to have gripped the city in the wake of the slaying; and that of the riot. Captain Hildegarde was his wits-end trying to make some sense of what was happening in his country and in his world. And if there was one thing that drove the Captain to distraction more than anything else, it was chaos and disorder,.... In the last several hours the Rubemeistry had declared martial law, sealed up the city's seaports and, even closed up the gates of the City. No one was allowed to either enter or leave the city without a special pass. New arrivals were instantly jailed, subjected to cavity searches, or even tortured if it was suspected that he, she, or they knew anything at all about this madman, the Rubeslayer, his cohorts, or possessed any knowledge whatsoever concerning the Underground Resistance Movement. The Underground Resistance Movement; or the Underground, as it was better commonly known, was an ultra-secret counterintelligence-oriented band of dissident rebels. None of its members had ever been exposed, though hundreds and even thousands of those suspected of having been involved with the Underground had been jailed and publically executed. Something Captain Bertram Hildegarde personally considered a gross display of bad judgment on the Rubemeistry's part and an absolute waste of manpower and gold. It would had been far better; and wiser, to portray this Rubelsayer as a public menace,. an enemy of the people. Instead, the more citizens of Capa City who were jailed and publicly executed, the greater the number of reports of Rubeslayer sightings found their way across Captain Hildegarde's desk. And the greater the numbers of atrocities became visited upon the Rubemeistry; and Capa City's occupying forces, in this criminal's name! Captain of the City Watch, Hildegarde sat behind his desk, an expression of utmost determination; and perhaps resolution etched across his craggy-featured, battle-scarred face. A mountainous stack of hourly reports was piled high atop his desk and spilling off onto the floor with such frequency that the Captain's much beleaguered seneschal Gustov was growing weary and impatient from having had to pick them up off the floor again. Not only was it the Theatrical Districts, but reports were coming in from patrols all over the city. All those damnable reports and not a one of them with any verifiable description of the elusive RubeSlayer,... Not even that of anyone suspected of being the RubeSlayer. And Taal Zodo was said to have returned to the mayoral mansion with one of his most notorious assassin-turned-general in tow. "That's th' trouble with this army,..." Hildegarde groused impatiently. His tone of voice conveyed such frustration and anger, that his unfortunate seneschal Gustov fairly leapt out of his skin,..."Too damned many generals and nae enough of your enlisted men,...!! Why, if i were our illustrious Leader, I'd march half my so-called general out into th' public square and either hang or behead th' whole bloody lot of 'em! Miserable bunch-a-vainglorious ---" Capt. Hildegarde angry tirade was abruptly interrupted by a loud, persistent banging that came upon the steel-bound heavy wooden door of the Capt's official office-chamber. Gustov, the seneschal looked nonplussed. "Well, do nae just stand there like a loon,...get over there an' see who it is! Whomever it is, tell them thet we are far too busy at the moment to see anyone who has not made an appointment to see me ahead of time. Tell them to make said appointment and come back, later. as if this whole RubeSlayer fiasco werenae enough, already,...." he added just beneath his breath, tiredly. "I'll be hanged, if this RubeSlayer mess isnae th' death of me,...." Gustov answers the door and tells the Rube at the other side, "I am sorry, but you need to make an appointment. The captain is not to be disturbed. The Rube emotionlessly states, "These orders far outclass yours. You will instruct the captain that Taal Zodo demands his immediate presence in the Grand Office now. I am to accompany him." Gustov grew pale at the Rube's pronouncement. He feared greatly for the Captain; as well as for himself. Though he'd never actually met Taal Zodo; and didn't care to meet him now, he'd heard plenty of horror stories, featuring both Zodo and his secret death squads, the Rubemeistry. However much Captain Hildegarde had persecuted every Elf, Half-Elf, or Underground sympathizer he'd been able to ferret out, he knew that the Captain's chiefest concern was the overall welfare of his fellow Capereans. It had been so, from the very moment Gustov and the much older man had met. The Captain had worn the burden of his citywide command with uncommon grace and valor, so far as Gustov had ever seen, but recent failures had insured that upon Taal Zodo's return to Capa City, that Captain Hildegarde's life was as good as forfeit. It seemed the time of reckoning had come. Gustov heavily calloused, but still tender hands, itched to wrap themselves about the Rube's throat. There would be no reprieve for the Captain; he knew,... But he knew that any such show of aggression that he displayed, now, would only serve to acerbate the already damning charges the Rubemeistry and Taal Zodo doubtless had against the Captain. It didn't much seem to matter to the fiend and his goon squad, that Capa City was too large; and sprawling a metropolis to have been held under the safeguarding of one brave officer. Gustov braved tearing his eyes off the Rube; he wanted to see how the Captain was receiving the dreadful new of his impending execution, but the Captain's face was inscrutable. If he feared dying, he would not deign to gratify the Rube with any show of concern. Certainly not with anything commiserate of the mortal danger Gustov suspected his superior of being in,... "Now then, Rubemeister; if you'd be so kind. I'll need a moment to put my dress in order. I should hate to think it was said of me that i went forth to make my inaugural meeting with the Master, in such a reproachable state of dishevelment,... Gustov,...My helmet; if you please,...there's a good lad,... The Rube coldly stated, "Very well. Make haste, we should not keep our lord waiting for long." He moved over and stood by the door, staring emotionless into the room.... Captain Bertram Hildegarde cut his eyes sharply towards the Rube, who stood watch at the door. The seneschal, Gustov, crossed the chamber and took up the Captain's paintakingly polished visored-helm and held it out to his superior. "Tell me, now, Rubemeister,..." Captian Hildegarde asked conversationally. "Just when t'was it thet our esteemed Lord stooped to elevating such a boorish personage suche as yourself? I suppose i shall have to ask Him, when opportunity presents itself,..." The Rube says nothing to your question. Instead he calmly states, "Are you ready yet....... Captain?" He stands their unmoving, his emotions if he had any remain hidden beneath the mask of his helmet... Captain Hildegarde felt a murderous anger rise up in him; it would be such a trifling matter to take up his bastard sword and run the devil through with it. What then? Surely this could only serve to further anger the Fallen Lord; and with Bertram Hildegarde gone, who would look after poor Gustov, who was more son than underling to the marriage less veteran. His eyes still blazing with intensity he received the visored-helm from his seneschal's trembling hands and put it on. Then he half turned and took up his belt scabbard, which was hanging off the high back of his chair and girded himself about the waist with it. "This sword and scabbard are to go to you, Gustov, after thet i am gone,..." he said quietly. "Be you brave; but nae stupid. Serve those who warrant it, well. Never draw the blade in frivolity, fer once drawn it cannae be re-sheathed lest you have drawn blood. Long have i had this sword, son, an' ever hast it served me well,...You're nae to go with me, when i go fer to speak with Lord Zodo. You were nae instructed by our good Rubemeister to company me to this audience, an' i absolutely forbid you to do so. The sword will be brought to you, in good time. Hunt down and slay thet criminal we spoke of, if you can, fer he; or she, is an enemy of the good people of Capa City as much as, much as th' other. Now go and have yourself a pint; or two, on me. I go, now, boy,...Live well,...die with honour." Having then said all it seemed he was going to say, Captain Hildegarde reached into his pocket and pulled out a platinum key. With this key he opened the top left-hand side drawer of his desk and drew out a box, The box had no lock upon it but was engraved with runes all-'round. Pressing his hand palm up upon the box, Bertram Hildegarde spoke a command phrase and the box's lip raised up as of its own volition as he drew his hand away again. Inside this box lay a beautifully crafted golden medallion with an electrum centerpiece on a platinum chain. The medallion, Gustov knew, was a medal that the Captain had received for meritorious service to his beloved Capere, only a few weeks prior to Taal Zodo's coming to take re-occupation of the gloriously architecture metropolis. With eyes closed, the Captain put on the medallion, as Gustov watched with eyes that quickly pooled with tears. Impatiently the young soldier reached up and wiped away the tears that threatened to spill down his youthful face, before they could betray him. Then having put on the medal of the which he was so proud of having received, Captain Hildegarde removed a signet ring and placed it into the box, which promptly closed again. "Shall we hie ourselves away, then, Rubemeister,...? Mustnae keep His Lordship waiting." The Rube nodded, "Still wearing the medal given to you by that lowlife Grentzen.... Come, let us go." He walked slightly behind Captain Hildegarde, saying not a word, having not a reaction to anything that might be said until they reached the grand Oval Office. Once the office of the gladiator-Capacitator, Grentzen Estabon, now the throne room of the Fallen Lord, Taal Zodo. The Rube did not enter with Hildegarde into the chamber.... Captain Bertram Hildegarde grunted acknowledgement of the Rube's refusal to enter into the Taal Zodo's chambers and cleared his throat while his rough callused hands busied themselves with last-moment straightening's of half-cape and tabard. "I understand,..." he said in a deep rich timbre. "you really haven't th' stomach needed to carry out this nefarious business. Very well; fret yourself nae upon it. I'm sure i can find mine own way, from here,..." Then; without a single backwards glance, Captain Hildegarde pushed down upon the door handle and pressed his armoured shoulder against the heavy iron-bound wooden door and pushed it slowly open, his lips scarcely moving as he sent up a whispered prayer for mercy to the Mogen David. Immediately an indescribable feeling of well-being rushed over him; body and soul, and he crossed to the front of Taal Zodo's antique desk, with an unshakeable sense of security he hadn't theretofore possessed, despite his inscrutable outward demeanor. Taal Zodo smiled humourlessly, and his eyes flash dark red. Nodding his head he coolly stated, "Bertram Hildegarde, so glad you could come at such short notice. I know how busy you must be. Why torturing and killing the innocent citizens by the multitude must be busy work. So tell me, captain, did you manage to get any information about this assassin while you were killing the weak and homeless?" He stands, "And under who's authority do you dare to command the Rubes to perform such atrocities?" Captain Bertram Hildegarde stood quite quiet and still, for a moment. He'd already surmised that Taal Zodo meant to kill him, either quickly, here, in his chambers; which really didn't seem all that likely, or by way of public execution. Either way he desperately needed a scapegoat of sorts to make up for all his failings. On the one hand, his Rubes had failed to bring the one the public called Rubeslayer to heel. So, he could not then lay the blame for the atrocities being visited upon the citizens of Capa City at that criminal's feet. On the other hand, neither could he allow the Rubes, his own personal elite soldiers and bodyguards and interrogators to receive the blame, as without them he'd have even less firm a grip on this sprawling, opulent metropolis. And no chance whatever of uncovering who was behind the acts of internal terrorism and rebellious uprisings that had come to plague his regime, since first they came to occupy and assume control over the city-state of Capere. Therefore; he needed someone to take the fall for everything the Capereans had come to suffer. And who better than Captain Hildegarde. A former war hero and patriot who'd come to reside over the activities of the elite body of men sworn to uphold Caperean law and serve to protect the welfare of the Caperean people long before the likes of Taal Zodo came to demand rulership and won it over the decadent Capereans with only a modicum of bloodshed, compared to other nations and peoples he'd subjugated under the might of his infernal rulership. Bertram Hildegarde slowly lifted his un-shaking hands and raised the visor of his helm. Then he carefully removed the helm and tucked it under his shield-arm. His heavily browed eyes shone as dark and as fiercely as flint by firelight. In them could be seen no iota of fear, whatsoever. His voice went he spoke was without even the slightest tremor; a deep, rich baritone. "I fear; milord, Zodo, thet you have been grievously misinformed. Or altogether lied to. I hold no position of authority over your Rubes. The campaign of terror being visited against the good people of Capa City is their doing; not mine, and if they dare to say otherwise,... they lie. Lie; i say, like the blood-thirsty dogs roaming the streets of this fair city thet they are,.... Aye; yes, I do apprehend and interrogate suspected criminals, those whom I suspect of inciting your Rubes to visit their particular brand of terrorism on these my people; I could nae in good conscience do otherwise. But is your Rubes who drag the homeless into your dungeons fer to be interrogated; tortured unto death; and beyond. It is your Rubemeisters who roam the streets at all hours kicking in the doors of law-abiding citizenry and having their mastiffs set upon the wives and children of all those who would even dare to try and oppose them. It is your Rubes who go about making restless the dead. And your mercenaries who wander even unto the countryside's, burning the crop fields of the peasantry, razing their homes, and putting all manner of the common folk to the sword, and to the hangman's gallows, the executioner's block, and to the fires!!,.... Naow, you ask of me if I have had any real success in all the endeavours thet I have made to run this criminal, this Rubeslayer to ground. And i say you 'Nay'. I would thet i could in the vain hope thet I could stop your Rubemeistry from visiting their brand of horrors upon my countrymen. But i cannae. And I see thet the stark truth of the matter is thet while this Rubeslayer is indeed a thorn in your backside, you donae truly want him; or her, caught, yet,....Else your Rubes wouldst lose the excuse they use in order thet they might continue to wage their campaign of terror against the citizens of Capere; and beyond. An endeavour they are acting to carry out with your pardon; and blessing, nae less!!" Taal Zodo stood there for a moment, staring deeply into the captain's eyes as if to peer deep within his soul. Slowly Taal's eyes change forever from the peaceful aquamarine to the dark blood red that had always been associated with Zodo. And as he spoke, his words dropped from the somewhat articulate to dark words, each syllable dripping with a poisonous tone, each breath feeling the warmth of all of Xodod's fires, each emotion portrayed that of all the world's greed and anguish. Words that when spoken would kill the normal man out of sheer fear. "Captain, your words and sense of valor may have won over Taal, but I am not the least amused. Just your very words alone are that which would warrant your guilt and your death; your very vanity shall be your fatal vice." Still in the voice of Zodo, he turned to Sabre, "Escort this person out to the main audience balcony. We are to have a public,... trial." For just an instant, after that Zodo's eyes had turned as crimson blood-beads of cold sweat broke out on Captain Hildegarde's brow and upon his upper lip, as the man's unguarded soul was allowed to experience the same sort of fear he'd once visited on those he himself had falsely accused and persecuted. The captain's soul withered in terror, but then the hard glint of fire-lit flint returned. The man's carefully trimmed and waxed mustaches quivered as an holy ire not born of himself, arose in his spirit. The shift in body language and disposition was so sudden; so absolute, that none present could have missed it. The shell of the man who'd been Bertram Hildegarde turned its head, its penetrating sapphire gaze falling upon Sabre with an intensity which seemed as though it'd easily penetrated a solid steel wall. "You shalt be free to do with this body whut thou wilt, in a moment. You cannae harm this one inside, regardless. He hast been redeemed." The gaze which was not that of the man Hildegarde turned again to fall upon Zodo, as he continued to glare at the warrior with unveiled malevolence. "As fer you, Fallen One; I know you,....Know you fer who; and whut you truly art. And i come bearing a Message fer you,....One comes fer you. One greater than the Mogen, One even greater than you,....He comes swiftly an' then you wilt fall, again, Devil,....And from this Falling you shalt nae arise,..." Zodo's eyes flickered and the venom seemingly fights to stay. Before being pulled back Zodo unleashed another stream of hatred, greed-filled words, "I know of the Great One, and that he is now in mortal form. I know that he is in Eleusia, chasing away those who bear my mark. But that is of no importance. I have already won! Man kind is too dependent upon its own poison, its own greed for me to fail. The darkness shall rise, soon I will be rid of Taal, and the gates of Xodod will open wide!" His eyes begin to fade as a force from within continues to fight and Zodo becomes even more week. Finding a chair to regain composure he again turns to Sabre, 'Take him hither from me!" He points to a door, "The balcony is out there, take him for his execution! Take him, and may his soul burn in Xodod!" The body that was the shell only of the man who'd been known as Captain Bertram Hildegarde stumbled stiff-leggedly after the assassin known as Sabre, like a mannequin which was in possession of no soul to burn in the Pits of Xodad; or anywhere else for that matter. "Are you so quick, then to martyr this empty vessel, Kaitcha Sabre Galweigh. His end went it comes shall be mercifully brief. Thereafter he shall walk the outer Elysium Fields. But your fate is sealed, fer you bear the Mark of the Fallen One upon your very soul The torment thet you shall suffer, hereafter, shall know nae ending. In this life you seek to share in Zodo's glory; which shall never be his, but share with him his due you shall,....There shall be nae escaping for you,..." The words are spoken softly, but the power behind them, the sheer terror they inspire cannot be denied by any living mortal creature. "This last thing know, mortal. Thet fer the harvest you hath sown, you wouldst hath been best served never to hath been born, at all,..." Bertram Hildegarde stumbled dazedly towards the balustrade; not entirely himself as yet, because like as not part of himself still walked the Elysium Fields. Not in the way of rewards for anything good or kind or decent he'd said or done in all the days he'd walked under Mythus' twin suns, but by the grace of the One God, alone. He saw that now, more clearly than anything else he'd ever seen in his entire lifetime. He'd also seen the place where he should have gone to spend eternity, but by that selfsame grace. He'd seen it, and known true fear, which was nothing akin to a man of merely faces the executioner's block, the stake or the hangman's noose. He'd seen a place a hundred; a thousand fold worse than the Pits of Xodad, even. A Place from the which there'd have been no escaping. Ever. Looking down over the crowd of Dwarves, Elves and Humans who'd been gathered together for to hear the despotic High Lord Taal Zodo's speech and his subsequent mock trial and execution, his saw the citizens of Capa City. People he'd fought bled and would now be dying for. But also people he'd ridiculed, spurned, persecuted, tortured and; yes, executed all for a tidbit of information. Information he now realized that might have helped the fiend Zodo further his unwavering goals exponentially. So for this; at least, it was fortuitous for the people of Capa City, his people that he was; in fact, being slain. for the secret of the identity of the Rubeslayer was dying with him,...And nothing this side of the Elysium Fields could have served to give him greater satisfaction, than knowing this. He'd been warded against the defilement that was necromancy. The Rubemeistry would be helpless to call back his spirit from the Land of Shades, he'd spend no time wandering the Vapid Vanatua. Thence he was going could no mortal's magic retrieve him. Even Zodo himself would find it impossible even to discovour his whereabouts. It would almost be in the mind of Zodo as if he'd never existed,.... Bertram Hildegarde bowed his head then, in a manner which no doubt would have seemed indicative of dejection to the Dark Elf standing beside and slightly behind him. For an instant he thought how easy a matter it'd have been to force her to draw forth her own sword and kill him on the spot. His hands were unbound and he wore his armour and his magical bastardsword dangled near to hand, at his left hip. But he quickly dismissed the notion. 'Rather i should spend this fleeting moment in prayer,...' he thought and immediately his blood-stained lips, began to move in quiet syncopation to the heartbeat in his breast. "Mayst it please the One God to have mercy upon the souls of all who look upon me, naow, and upon all the souls of all their families and thet of their families' families,...An' mayst He shew mercy unto this Dark Elf's black soul, as well; Amen." the words he speaks came whispered as light as a leaf on the wind. And when he raised his head again, he looked not upon a sea of unrecognizable faces but upon friends, neighbours, acquaintances, foes and detractors, alike. But he was now beyond the touch of earthly gladness or pain or suffering. He looked on the Elysium Fields and saw many, many that he'd known in life, there. "Come now, m'dear,..." he said as blood dripped off his chin and stained his gleaming gold platinum and electrum medallion. "Let's get this thing finished; shall we,...?" Captain of the City Watch, Bertram Hildegarde, stood impassively by as the monster in wolf's clothing, Taal Zodo, delivered an entirely uninspiring speech to a crowd of people who'd gathered below the balcony of the Grentzen Manor, now called by the common folk Rube Central, as it was no states secret that the not so secret police force, the Rubemeistry headquartered, therein. The mansion was also the building in the which the despotic Zodo resided when his campaign to become Conqueror of the World did not having him doing so, elsewhere. Hildegarde listened disinterestedly as Taal Zodo laid the entire blame for his stormtroopers' campaign of terror against the good peoples of Capa City squarely at the Captain's feet, adding that he fully intended to continue his citywide manhunt for the supposed criminal known to them as the Rubeslayer, this time with their aid and cooperation. Zodo also stated in his speech that he intended to appoint a new successor to the mysteriously vacated office of Grand Imperator, to replace Hildegarde who'd lost his sense of duty to the citizenry of New Xodia and abused his office as Captain of the City Watch and his unofficial capacity of Grand Imperator Elect to carry out his supposed atrocities against the citizenry. Bertram Hildegarde was fairly certain who this new Grand Imperator was to be, as well, as the fact it'd been this same devious individual who'd arranged to deceive his master into believing that the Captain had been the instigating force behind the harassment being visited upon outwardly law abiding citizens. And he'd also determined that his suspicions of who had been behind the campaign to get him falsely accused and summarily publicly executed in order to further his own political ambitions, would die with him. As well as his knowledge of the true identify of the one called Rubeslayer,... As Taal Zodo's foreshortened speech drew to a close; however, a skirmish broke out at; or near the front of the crowd just below the balcony's ornate stone balustrade. At first Captain Hildegarde didn't know what to make of it; nor how to respond. He certainly can't have had any well-wishers in this crowd who'd come to hear Zodo's speech; and stayed to witness his execution--or had they? He'd resigned himself to death, neither believing that he would be spared, nor completely trusting and accepting of the fact that he'd been completely forgiven by the Mogen David for the pain, suffering, humiliation and sometimes even death he'd been responsible for visiting upon the Mogen's people. So, when the rioting broke out he didn't know; or trust how to take it. Presently he heard Taal Zodo tell the murderous Dark Elf known as Sabre, to go and lend aid to the beleaguered City Watchmen and Rubemeisters in quelling the rioting, and he heard Zodo tell the Elfess that she needn't concern herself with Hildegarde, and that she should not visit more injury upon the rioting citizenry than was necessary to bring the rioters under control,... This wasn't the Taal Zodo Captain Bertram Hildegarde had come to know while defending Capa City when Zodo first came to war with the Capereans for supremacy over their beloved city, and wasn't the same despot he'd come to begrudgingly respect when Zodo had presented Hildegarde with the ultimatum to serve him as conqueror in the retained City Watch; or die,...Hildegarde had chosen to live and to serve; as any sensible professional soldier would have,... Hildegarde had heard the same rumours that had come through the City Watch's rumour mill as anyone else. And he'd dismissed them as being ridiculous beyond belief. Taal Zodo, he'd argued with his seneschal, Gustov, did not suffer from having a fractured psyche. Duplicitous, yes; but not fractured. But then he raised his head tiredly and half-turned to look over at Tall Zodo who was apparently in no hurry whatsoever to murder him. Rather he seemed to be engaged with an internal struggle with himself. Zodo was trembling visibly and sweat had broken out on his high wide forehead and his brushy brows had become furrowed. He'd also clenched his teeth and balled his finely formed hand into tightly clenched fists. It was obvious; to the Captain at least, that the fellow was steadily declining into a state of extreme distress. And that his attention was no longer stayed upon the man he'd supposed had led out onto this balcony to be publicly executed. In fact; along with the Dark Elf Sabre, the members of the Rubemeistry who'd accompanied Taal Zodo out onto the balcony had fled to try and deal with the rioters, leaving the two men alone and unguarded. "Whut am I to do, now, Mogen?" As he prayed, in desperation, he heard a stirring at his side and looked over again at Zodo. He was completely unprepared to see the seeming pleading in his would-be executioner's deep-set blue-grey eyes Instantaneously the blue was replaced by blood red crimson and he reeled away in absolute terror. He whirled around, his eyes desperately seeking for; and finding, an avenue of possible escape. With a surge of adrenaline induced strength he didn't believe he could still muster, Captain Bertram Hildegarde leaped atop the balcony's balustrade fieldplate armour and all. The fighting below came to a near stand-still as he teetered atop the balustrade his sapphire blue eyes wide and pleading,... Inwardly Taal deeply desired that the captain would escape. After all, Taal wished for none of this so many years ago. No, it was only a wish that Mythians could fight past their greed's and live in harmony... so that none may suffer greed again. Perhaps that wish was too much for the Oracle to handle, allowing the demon to break out. And perhaps due to his emotional state at the time, Taal was unable to wield the Zodo away, and became a host for what he came to know as the father of evil. Or, worse yet, perhaps this was the Oracle's way of answering Taal's wish. Surely the carnage that he brought when he became the Zodo did bring the Mythians together. And if they could find away to defeat this monster... then he knew that relative harmony would exist, even if for a short while. Though as much as Taal wanted the captain to live, Zodo wanted him to die. Zodo cared not for life in the slightest, especially for a life that could hold some of Zodo's secrets, as the captain had. No, in Zodo's eyes Bertram Hildegarde had to die, and serve as a reminder to those who would dare oppose him... especially a reminder for the dying Taal who continuously, and sometimes successfully, held Zodo at bay. Zodo's bitter anger grew when he saw the captain standing upon the balustrade, attempting to make his escape. Zodo quickly overpowered the pleading Taal and forcefully reached with a single hand into Hildegarde's back, just between the shoulder blades. His demonically powerful fingers burst through the captain's armor as if it were not there to begin with and dug into the captain's flesh, wrapping forcefully around Hildegarde's spinal cord. In a tone dripping with venom Zodo taunted, "Planning on escaping, Captain?" Somehow it seemed as if all who were there knew what was going on, as the riot stopped, and everyone turned their terror-filled eyes upon Zodo as he proceeded to address the crowd. "Behold the price of turning on your god!" Zodo warned as with a single yank he pulls out part of Hildegarde's spinal column. With blood flowing freely, Zodo magically attached the end of the spinal cord to the balustrade, letting the now limp captain to hang from it as if it were his rope. With nothing to support it, Hildegarde's head fell limp upon his shoulders, and as if some wild nerve reaction Hildegarde's limbs flung violently about for a few seconds before they too fell limp.... though all this time it was easily spotted that there was no actual life in Hildegarde. This enraged Zodo. He had wanted to hear Hildegarde suffer. He had wanted all of Capa City to hear Hildegarde suffer. Zodo then attempted to draw out the captain's soul, and much to his dismay, it was not there. Zodo knew what this meant... he had just made a martyr.... and now his time was coming... In frustration and bitter anger Zodo commanded his Rubes to intensify their lockdown upon the city, and to kill on sight any resistance. He then ordered for Sabre to return, and looked behind him for Lfurita. Again anger as he saw that she was gone, storming back into his office he commanded to the next visible Rube to find and bring forth Lfurita at once. All this time Taal watched, and inwardly wept. He was unable to stop Zodo's evil once again. These occurrences were increasing dramatically and he knew that meant that he himself was near death. However he also knew that the fabled time was soon at hand. If only he can last until; then, then Mythus just may have a chance. So as much as he rather die, he had to survive... he had to protect the Mythians from the evil he unleashed so many years ago...  

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