Sacrifices Must Be Made
By: Shikairi Posted on: June 16, 2007
The path to greater power is often one laden with difficult choices. Many times, those who would aspire to greatness must lay aside things previously of great value to them: their principles, their wealth, sometimes even their families and friends. It is essential to understand these things are of no consequence, for he who has power desires nothing but more power and cares for nothing but power, and fears nothing but the loss of power. For with power comes greatness. The heart of every man, no matter how quaint and simple, undulates back and forth, springing up with the profound desire to be great. As what is called Evil is simply the drive for greatness, then it stands to reason that everyone is Evil in their own way. Though these aspirations manifest themselves differently in everyone, one thing remains constant: difficult decisions must be rendered. Sacrifices must be made.
This is the story of the beginning of an acute desire for power. Those who shield their bodies from suffering and shy away from pain need read no further.
It was about a year or three ago, around the time that I was a youth of just eighteen winters, that I entered into the service of those paragons of Evil, the dread Maldaathi. The black knights of Mhaldor entertain no tolerance nor forgiveness for weakness, especially among their own number: they stamp it out like a infested bug in the dirt, and grind its miniature bones into dust. I, like all others, began in the recruitment and basic training program. It was there that I met a comrade in life: he was close to me in age, and shared my acute desire to serve in the hosts of Evil. A troll named Graud, he was of the house of Khetoum. His parents were nobles in our illustrious city, as were mine. I had thought my parents were simple commoners, but as it turned out, on my eighteenth birthday my guardian revealed my parents were nobility as well. I was pleased, because this meant I had a future - not doomed to till the fields, I could pursue greatness in Evil. So we were much alike, Graud and I, but I suppose all that serves to illuminate is how two things can be conceived in the same manner, and have entirely different ends. Now that I have provided you with enough information to have a vague idea of the people in the story, I leave here my memories. Learn from them, that you might be strengthened in your own quest for power; for in your heart, you cannot deny that you too desire it.
Walk in Evil, walk in Power.
The vultures screeched their cacophonous cries down at us as we trudged toward the summit of the mountain. Driven into near-frenzy by the prospect of fresh meat, they swooped greedily above our heads. Every now and then they would descend and fly only a few feet above our heads. The foul reeking air surrounded us as if in a toxic haze, and I struggled to draw breath. The grey skies cast the shadow of gloom across our faces, and the prospect of defeat weighed heavily upon our minds. But we trudged on, my comrades and I, for we were grunts of the Maldaathi, and only by refusing defeat would we become worth more than maggots.
Sir Orchist, seated on his horrific infernal steed, swayed slightly back and forth as his horse passed us in our march-line. "Remember, Grunts, your weakness is a disease that must be crushed out of you before you are fit to become Maldaathi. Your physical training here will serve you well...if you survive to complete it." As if on cue, a few seconds later a Rajamalan girl sank to her knees, gave a great gasp, and succumbed. The vultures shrieked of glee and descended immediately upon her corpse. Sir Orchist scowled. "See what happens to the weak!" Unsheathing his longsword, he hopped off his steed and strode imperiously toward the body. Scattering the carrion-awaiting birds of prey, he hewed her neck off and held it aloft for the company to see. We turned our heads away in horror. He smiled at the spectacle. Redistributing her pack weight among the survivors, he then ordered us to continue the march. It would have been a severe understatement to say we were in low spirits.
Several hours (and three dead Grunts) later, Sir Orchist had still not deemed our suffering to be sufficient. It seemed as if we had been at this for literally days; my dry tongue felt as though it were wood. It was only through the effects of my superior constitution as a horkval that I could go on at all. Even Graud, with his massive frame and incredible endurance, was feeling the effects of fatigue. Finally I let out a stifled cry and fell. Graud's eyes flashed with concern. "Come on, friend. We are almost there." I staggered to my feet again, and became aware that Sir Orchist was watching with a detatched coldness from a distance. There was something about his demeanor that I couldn't quite place. He was not angry, nor disappointed. His face was full of that seething loathing intrinsic to so many of the officers of the army of Evil I had met before, but that was not it either. He seemed...pleased. Then, I saw the ghost of a solitary sadistic smile flicker across his face, and I was certain. He was pleased that I had fallen, pleased that I had suffered. But was he pleased because suffering led to greater strength, or was he pleased that I appeared likely to fail?
I dreamt about that moment all throughout that night as I lay on my pitiful straw mat. My future was cloudy, and I could not discern what lay ahead of me. Mercifully, I did not rack my soul too agonizingly, for the morning arrived seemingly a short hour or two after I had put my head down to rest. As I exited the barracks, I saw that my guess was not at all far off the mark. It was still pitch-black outside, and and the bitter night chills made me shiver. Our day's task was to be an exercise in archery. A Congregation magi had bewitched a large quanitity of small blocks of wood to float around in a random zigzag. Our task was to use bow and arrow to hit the blocks and send them hurtling to the ground. That in itself would have been too simple, of course, so we received the added difficulty of doing this while on horseback. After stocking my quiver and taking up my bow, I jumped onto my mount, and gave him a good kick. He set off at a steady gallop, and the challenge was begun.
I had begun with a clear strategy in mind, and I intended to see it through. Ignoring all the others, I concentrated on one block, and bore down on it with my steed. Letting go of my grip, I took an arrow from my quiver, fitted it to the bow, held my breath and...an agonizing pain erupted from my left shoulder. Nearly falling off my mount, to what would surely have been my death, I discovered with considerable shock that there was an arrow protruding out of my shoulder. I yanked it out, and as I bled profusely, I realized that all the Grunts had been sent on their task at the same time: I was in the midst of a shower of arrows. Kicking my mount into action, I managed to get away from the worst of it, and catch my breath while I clotted my wounds with powers of healing from beyond the grave.
I focused on the task once more. With my high levels of alertness, it was entirely possible I should be able to give up the task of dodging arrows to my subconscious and my mount, and worry only about hitting the block as fast as possible. I gritted my teeth and sprang back into the danger zone. Though arrows whistled by me, singing their fell notes of death all around, I was unscathed, and I centered in on a block once more. Holding my breath, I let my arrow fly, and my aim was true, for the arrow hit the piece of wood and it fell to the ground, defeated. Looking around, I was surprised to notice that I was the first one done; in fact, I was the only one to have completed my task. Many of the others, including Graud, were facing difficulties. Chancing a glance at Sir Orchist, who was in conversation with Sir Cooper, I ordered my horse to run towards where Graud was, struggling to fit the arrow to the bow.
"Here," I said, as I took the bow from his hands and showed him how to do it. "Make sure to hold your breath when you let go, and always aim slightly above your target, since the line of trajectory is curved, not straight." Graud nodded his head swiftly in a sign of understanding. I wished him luck and started off back towards the stables, but my feeling of accomplishment disappeared, like the air out of a balloon, when I saw Sir Orchist had finished his conversation and was looking directly at me. I met his gaze steadily, then quickly lowered my eyes and moved on. For the second time I felt that strange premonition of horrible things to come, terrors that the disciplinarian had in store for me.
Yet my feelings were wrong, for no other event of significance took place throughout the rest of our exercises. On the day that we were to gain admission into the Baelgrim Fortress and its incredibly exclusive training program, however, Graud and I were both summoned into Sir Orchist's office. It was a diabolical setting; various weapons and instruments of torture hung on the walls, and the only light came from a solitary, small window. Sir Orchist rose to greet us, that peculiar sadistic smile once again adorning his face. "Grunts. I have found you worthy of admittance into the rigorous training program to become a Maldaathi Knight, greatest of the noble legions of Sapience." He paused here for a moment, to let his words sink in. "You have withstood all kinds of weaknesses during your time as Grunts, including physical and mental. It is my judgement, however, that you have relied on each other the way a man who was once broken but is almost whole relies on a crutch. He only thinks he needs it to support himself, and in the end he is only prolonging the process of the return to true strength. He would be better off breaking the crutch and proceeding alone. So too will you break your crutches, Grunts."
"You will duel to the death, and he who lives will have broken his crutch, and proven hi mself worthy of the title of Recruit of Mhaldor."
I was rooted to the spot. I had a ominous feeling from the start, but never had I imagined that this would be the grand finale of my Gruntship. A blood-duel with one of my closest comrades; indeed, probably the only friend I had ever made throughout my life. No matter the result of the duel, my fate was tragic: I would die, or I would end up killing a friend I loved like a brother, and never be the same again. I moved sluggishly, as though in aeon, as Sir Orchist took out a black chest adorned with skulls, removed a key from his desk, and opened it to reveal weapons, shields, and armor. I chanced a look at Graud. He was looking at the two battleaxes in his hands dubiously; it was clear that this turn of events did not suit him at all. I chose two rapiers, which felt light and swift in my hands, but I knew them for what they were. Tools of death, nothing more.
We walked out into the arena along with Sir Orchist. I felt strangely naked, with only my hard exoskeleton, while Graud was wearing a suit of full armor, black as the night itself. If it had been under other circumstances I would have noted it as being majestic and cruelly beautiful; as it were, I could only stare into the ground, awaiting my sentence of death. The sinister spectacle of sadism, Sir Orchist ordered us to begin, and so began the quarter of an hour that would change my life like none before it.
We began a sort of slow, pondering dance; circling around the ring, each staring intently into the other fighter's eyes. A feint here, a dash there, but not a blow had been landed yet. Finally a swing. Graud lifted his heavy battleaxe and brought it around in a horizontal motion. A second too late, I stepped back, and the tip just caught me. I let out a grunt, more from surprise than pain. Graud then surprised me even more. Instead of swinging with the other battleaxe, he lowered his shoulder and rammed his massive troll shoulder into my gut, sending me sprawling onto the floor. One more step forward and he towered over me, Thoth's angel of death, come to take me to the halls of Maya. I gasped, for I knew my end had come.
Sir Orchist laughed with horrible glee. "Good, Graud! Kill him!"
Graud looked down at me sadly, then lifted his battleaxes once more, ready for the killing blow. Then strong emotion came over him, and he dropped his weapons. They harmlessly fell to the floor on either side of him. Unstrapping his armor, he declared, "I cannot do it, I cannot do it! I...cannot kill my friend." Stooping down, he gave me his hand. Letting my rapier roll out of my left hand, I accepted his hand, and he pulled me to my feet.
All of a sudden, I was filled with a strange feeling. I was overcome by hatred, anger, jealousy, rage, and a thousand other emotions bursting from my heart. I did not understand it at first, but very soon it became clear to me what I must do. The emotions rose in my heart like a wave as I took a deep breath.
I plunged the rapier in my right hand directly through Graud's exposed throat. My heart felt as though it burst, and in its place was something else, entirely different and unique. It felt cold...emotionless. No, not that, for I still felt all of the same things I had felt before. It was more that they were now under control. They had called out, and I had answered their cry; I was their master.
"I thought from the start you had it in you, Shikairi," came a dark and sinister voice. I thought it was my new heart (or lack of a heart?) speaking, but then I wheeled around and remembered where I was. "Yes, sacrifices must be made, as you have seen today. But remember, what you did, you did not do as an act of randomness. It was all for something: the pursuit of power." A horrible, booming laugh, and then:
"Welcome," said Sir Orchist, "to the Maldaathi."