291 The Uncrowned Regent of Rene
The evening had begun ordinary, just like always. The crowd had poured in, the entry fee steadily filling the facility's coffers. The first fighters had been presented for the night, with bets placed and the crowd ready and eager to be entertained by the spilling of blood and the cacophony of hurt. But Yolder, a guard who spent much of his night patrolling the ring to make sure there wasn't any foul – or at least fouler play than was necessary – and funny business going, thought the night felt different.
It took it a couple of fights to work out what it was. The Master of the Ring, Reishin Irons, was nowhere to be seen.
Usually he'd stand towards the back of the crowd. His view of the room clear as he ensured everything was running smoothly. It was rare that he ever came late. Though it did happen. Usually when he was caught up in other work. Yolder figured that must be it, after all, the Reishin was a busy man.
But a handful of missed fights turned into a full hour, then a second�����then a third. Finally, Yolder thought that perhaps he better report this to his superiors to see what was going on. He made his way around the ring to the front where he signalled to the Manager.
"What is it? I'm busy," the manager questioned quickly.
"Is Reishin Irons indisposed tonight?" asked Yolder.
The Manager looked up, "Why?"
"Because I have not seen him all night," Yolder replied.
The Manager frowned at that, muttering to himself. Though Yolder could not hear him over the din of the fights.
"Go down to ask the guards there," said the Manager. Yolder had no reason to not know where the Manager meant. He'd just never had the honour of going down there himself, "And tell them that the Shin has sent word of his arrival. Soon".
Yolder's eyes widened, then scurried off immediately. If the Shin was not pleased when he came, they would all suffer for it.
Yolder hurried into the hallway below the area, only to pause as he entered. In the dim lighting, it was hard to be sure, but the walls and the floor had a different sort of colour to them than he expected. As he stepped down the hall though, he began to sense that things were not right. That smell…He was pretty sure that was blood, and a lot of it.
Yolder hurried to the end of the corridor, but he passed no guards. Odd. Was the Reishin even here? But Yolder could not think of where else he would be.
Yolder paused before the large wooden doors that were the entrance to the Reishin's main office, then glanced back down the hallway. The smell, it was stronger here, and looking at that hallway again…his instincts screamed at him.
Yolder pushed the door open.
The room was dark, lit only by the already dim light from the hallway. Being underground, these offices never got any natural light so torches and lanterns were always kept lit down here. But this office, there was no light at all. It was like a black hole. Yolder took a few steps inside.
"Forgive me for my intrusion, Reishin Irons…"
Yolder trailed off as his boot hit something. Both soft and tough. Yolder gulped, then bent down and reached out a hand, it came into contact with some sort of material. He felt along it, a coat maybe? Then…was that hair? And-
Yolder felt something wet and sticky. His imagination running from him, his hand started to shake in fear as he lifted his hand slowly to his nose.
Blood. Definitely blood.
The sudden noise in the silent darkness made Yolder jump back, and he slipped and fell, catching himself on the floor where his hands felt something more sticky and wet.
Blood. A lot of blood.
"You're either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid for not coming with back up," said the voice. The ring of something bell-like tinkled through the room, followed by a soft breeze. An arm suddenly wrapped around Yolder's shoulders, and he jumped and went to shout, only to have a hand cover his mouth.
His eyes went wide with fear as he felt a presence beside him. Suddenly, a soft light glowed in front of him. His eyes immediately recognised it as one of those special stones. No, charms they were called. That miraculous product that had come from the Southern Isles of Eldovia. The circle inside a circle rune carved into the crystal's surface was one he recognised as the protection charm.
"I think your Reishin Irons was stupid," said the voice, "He decided he could control me with this little crystal there to protect him. That last all of four and a half seconds. It made me think though…was that the point that turned my life around? That made me destined to follow his whims rather than my own path. He always talked about it being something we were doing together, but I knew nothing about these things other than what he told me, which was the bare minimum at best".
A hiss of frustration beside his ear then the figure moved away. Yolder froze, waiting in anticipation before he heard the striking of a match, and a lantern to the side lit up, then another, then another.
As the room slowly illuminated, Yolder's eyes took in the horror that dwelled within. At least twenty guards scattered across the room, and at the table in the centre, the corpses of Reishin Irons and his closest council, all with their severed heads balanced precariously where they used to attach to their necks.
A figure appeared beside Reishin Irons, looking down at him with a sort of boredom in his red eyes. Yolder had never seen the Great Warrior Bloodthorn without his hood, but now he wished he'd never had the pleasure. He was so much more intimidating without it. His presence overwhelming as the only live figure in a room of corpses.
"We promised to set out on an adventure together…yet somehow, I just ended up being a follower. Always nothing but a damn follower," Bloodthorn snapped. He held the protection charm up before Reishin Irons' vacant eyes and looked up to meet Yolder's gaze, "But following never got me anywhere but drawn into darkness I had no desire to be a part of. No more".
Bloodthorn squeeze the charm in his fist, and it flared with a brighter for an instant before it shattered like glass and fell to the table before the Reishin's body.
Bloodthorn then moved to the side and picked up a sack that jingled as he lifted it and tossed it over his shoulder with ease, "I've taken my compensation. Great Shin of Rene"
It was then that Yolder noticed that he was not alone. He'd been too terrified of the monster before him to sense the arrival of the one behind. He spun, quickly kneeling.
Even without meeting his eyes, Yolder could tell that the Shin of Rene was an old man. Old, powerful, and in the presence of Aegin Bloodthorn, all too human. For Bloodthorn could not have been human to have done this.
"A word of advice, old man," Aegin stated as he came to stand beside the Shin, "Be careful of who you make deals with. You could find that the one who offers you the most protection is easily the greatest threat to you. Your Reishin did not learn that lesson".
"You will leave," the Shin ordered, his voice clear and dominant, but with a tone that was just the slightest bit wavering.
Aegin chuckled, "I'll be gone once I've cleaned out my temporary quarters. I'm not staying in this shit hole any longer".
Then he vanished. The Shin was silent for a moment before he looked down at Yolder.
"What is your name?"
Yolder choked on his voice, "Y-Yolder sir".
"Yolder…" the Shin trailed off, "Congratulations, Yolder, you are the new Reishin of Rene's Southern Sector. I suggest you get this place cleaned up for business. I do not wish to be disappointed a second time".
An honour…in any other circumstance.
Looking over his shoulder at his predecessor, Yolder took Aegin Bloodthorn's warning to heart.