An endless, empty plain of red earth and dust sits beneath a red sun hanging in a red sky. The sun is huge and bloated, too close to the earth, and black swirls within it. Two figures appear, one with a black sword and the other bearing a blade of red. Neither sheathes his blade as they begin to speak.
"What the fuck, Keroen?"
"You question your Ruler, Callifay?"
Callifay's face twists into a snarl, "No, you'll not be playing that game with me. I'm Feronel through an through Keroen. Last I checked it was Contuck that was the ruler of them. You I'm calling lover an if you think that gives you a free pass to do what you want without worrying about me questioning you, we might be feeding a bit more of you to Skothenthir here before we leave The Nightmare Lands."
The red sword vibrates in Callifay's hand, trying to leap towards Keroen. Callifay's arm doesn't budge.
A smile like a knife's blade splits Keroen's lips.
"Come then, Callifay. Let us cross blades a never set them aside. Let us cut pounds of flesh from one another until we're bloody and raw and have finally watered The Nightmare Lands to its satisfaction."
"Chain. Him. Up. I'm not asking, Keroen."
Keroen's right hand comes up to his face and with a snarl his sinks black nailed fingers into his face like his flesh is soft clay. He snarls and drags something out. A throne of bone and iron appears near the two Nel and upon it sits Keroen, red eyes wide and shining and his brow bleeding. He cackles happily as heavy chains of iron encircle him and bind him to his throne. His teeth are jagged black spikes and his nails are black talons.
He speaks in Keroen's voice, "We told the mortal we'd meet again."
He titters madly.
"We warned him. He told us a story of shit and it amused us and we liked him so we warned him we'd meet again."
Keroen upon the throne frowns, "We should have made him bleed more. Like the sorcerer. Like the Elduman."
Keroen bellows, "Be silent, Bloody Head."
Callifay sheaths his red blade over his shoulder and says, "He's supposed to be well an truly chained, Keroen. He's only supposed to be freeing himself when you allow it. I'll ask again, what the fuck?"
Bloody Head taps his nails upon his throne, smiling toothily at Keroen and Callifay.
Keroen bellows again, "Nostathon!"
A crow descends out of the red sky, it's the size of an eagle and has the compound eyes of a fly and feathers of dark chitin. As it lands it becomes a rotted lastborn clad in ruined black leather armor. It carries a huge single edged sword at rest on its shoulder. It nods at Callifay and bows to Keroen.
"Bloody Head has been escaping his chains, Nostathon."
A dry, raspy wind rustles out of Nostathon's chest and he says, "I am aware. I do not know why. The power of the Sokarnel binds him. Chains forged of your own Gifts and weighted with our own Gifts of death and darkness and ruin. If he is freed, it must be by your own will. I cannot see how he could manage it himself."
Bloody Head shrieks in delight and hisses, "We know a secret. We know all the secrets, but that's besides the point."
Keroen fixes Bloody Head with his green eyes and snarls, "Do I look to be in the mood for your games?"
Bloody Head grins, "We're always in the mood for games of blood and violence. You forget who we are. What we are. We know our past now. We remember that we have slain cosmos with our warcries. We waged war long before we were exiled to this petty little world and we loved it too dearly and we were too honest in our love and for that we were bound. Just as we bind ourself now."
Bloody Head rattles the chains on his body as if to prove his point.
"We were so close. Our brow split open and fire poured out and we could have flown from this cage and warred once more with equals. But we sought to preserve instead, and in our weakness our fire dimmed and our commitment wavered. For a phantom. A shade of no substance."
Bloody Head shoots a look at Callifay.
"For this we denied ourself freedom and war without restraint. We sicken ourself."
Bloody Head spits a gobbet of blood onto the dusty red earth. He sees a rusted sickle, it's edge corroded and caked with dried blood, upon the earth near his throne. He stretches his hand towards it, wiggling his fingers as if that will miraculously make up the feet of distance between hand and sickle.
Callifay lights his pipe and says, "What'll we be doing then? He's free, or as close to it as not to matter. We're in the midst of a brawl, albeit with just the Sarownel now. Fine, the mortals took the brunt of it and survived it. This time. What happens if you cut Volung in two? Prase?"
Keroen scowls, "And what will you have me do, Callifay? Shall I forswear blade and bloodshed once more? Shall we walk the path to my destruction a second time?"
"Piss off, Keroen. You know as well as I your Gifts are limitless. You could pour three times as much into the Nel, truly make pissant little gods of them, and you'd still be able to clobber the whole mess of our people in one go if you wished it."
Callifay hurls his pipe to the ground and jabs a finger towards Keroen, screaming, "What you gotta do is bind that grinning little shit to that chair and keep him there. Fuck everything else. It matters less than a fucking great ursine shitting in the woods. Chain him, cut out his tongue, and nail his fucking limbs to the chair. The longer he's free, the harder you are to reign in, an Skothenthir or no, I can only hold you off for so long. Once he's gutted me, who'll it be that slows you down enough to chain him once more?"
With a smile, Bloody Head says, "Jah'd. Oh we like her we do. She can hold us back. She can ruin us and break us and force us to fight harder. She brings out the best in us. We love her. We need her. Want her. Loria is a mewling little kitten, a pale imitation. Jah'd is our truest love. The original."
Bloody Head gets a quizzical expression on his face and looks down at his pants, blood dripping loudly as it splatters against the iron chains crisscrossing his body. He looks up at Nostathon, Keroen, and Callifay, his grin wider than before.
He nods and says, "Yes. We definitely love Jah'd. We want to cut her and rub up against her and let her cut us and maybe chew on her face a little. Definitely chew on her face. Do you think she'd chew on ours?"
Bloody Head opens and shuts his mouth a few times with a clack of his sharp fangs striking each other.
Callifay and Nostathon look at Keroen, their expressions saying "What the fuck?"
Bloody Head begins scraping grime from his claws with the point of his sickle, which unlike the curving blade portion of it, is honed and razor sharp. The other Nel don't seem to notice that his chains are suddenly slack and his sickle is in hand. His eyes dart around to make sure none of them are watching him and he brings the sickle up and licks the crusted blood and grime from it with a long, slender tongue. He smiles.
Callifay says, "Ah fuck it, we'll figure it out later."
Keroen says with incredulity touching his voice, "We will?"
Callifay nods and says, "Aye, eventually, somehow, whatever. You're always pulling some last minute realization or fucking loophole outta your ass to go an fix whatever has us all well and truly fucked."
Keroen pauses, his eyes unfocusing as he remembers.
"Huh. I suppose that's true, Callifay."
"You'll figure it out, but you'll be disbanding the warband an you'll be setting aside Calindrel for a time. You follow me?"
"Alright then, what'll you be doing about King Shit Tongue and Queen Bat Shit Crazy?"
Keroen growls wordlessly, stops himself, visibly steels his resolve as Bloody Head begins cackling.
"I had it in mind to sink Grenaldeen as an opening move."
Callifay nods, "An then what? Rally the Feronel, do yourself a wee bit of culling?"
Bloody Head's eyes widen and he glances down at his sickle before chucking it behind him over the throne of bone and iron. Then he clasps his hands together and begins whistling and looking around. The other three Nel watch him for a moment before returning to their conversation.
Callifay nods again and asks, "Why?"
Callifay rolls his eyes, "Oh fuck this leading you around by the nose shit. Stop it. Leave them the fuck alone. Aubernach found a way around your obelisk and he an his people an all the little shit licking young Nel are still weaker than they were back in the day. Be done with it."
Keroen snarls and Callifay whips out Skothenthir.
"Nope. We'll not be doing this. It's time to get the fuck over it Keroen. Aubernach is a tricky little shit, that's for damn sure. He's everything you an I are despising. Pretty words and games and nothing of substance to him. 'Cept the first thing he did was to secure Grenaldeen atop the waves. 'Cept his ploy involved blood and toil. He didn't trick Contuck into hitting the obelisk either. He ambushed you and your allies and made off with the cudgel an we all fucking fell for it like Nel brawling on their first day. He didn't come at you blade out and screaming for your blood. But he came for you. He outsmarted you and took what he wanted. His people bled for it too. Jenevan an I made certain of that. The Aubernel and Utenel came all this fucking way prepared to die in battle against you. They knew nothing of that little shit's ploy. Look at 'em, you can taste it in their Gifts. They're on their knees kissing his feet and opening wide for his dick. The pretty little dandy of a king saved all of his people, an the Utenel, Loronel, an Sokarnel while he was at it. He coulda kept the Gifts or given them to his people. Instead, he fixed what you undid an kept Grenaldeen from sinking. He had them wage war against the fucking Feronel to put them all in position to get a taste when he broke open the obelisk. He wasn't a miser. He spread everything freed from the obelisk around for everyone to get a taste of. He might be a prancing little dandy, but he did what you wanted an his people bled and died and fought for their Gifts. Lesson bloody fucking learned, Keroen. Leave it."
Bloody Head stops whistling long enough to say, "He's got a point."
Keroen looks at Bloody Head, his eyes wide and surprised. Bloody Head shrugs.
"We've been cutting apart Nel forever. They're boring. We should fight something else. We should hang out with Volung more. We like him. He's fun. We can go fuck up the Elduman and the Kussethians and everybody else he's got a bone to pick with. We should do that. He's our friend, after all. We have to be loyal to our friends, right? That's one of the stupid things we think we think is important that Loria kept yammering about when we weren't fucking her. And maybe we can give Volung a friendly slug on the shoulder after we kill everybody else, and maybe he does it back, so we do it harder. He doesn't want to look weak, so he slugs our shoulder harder. Then we tear his fucking head off and eat his eyes. Maybe just one, the other we'll put on our bracelet. It's metal, not bone, but we think it appropriate and we are wise."
Callifay looks to Nostathon and ask, "It's been a while, so maybe I'm just being a bit forgetful, but has he always been this fucking chipper?"
Nostathon frowns and says, "There is an element of cheer to him. He is rarely this animated. I would almost call him happy."
Bloody Head leans forward, his eyes going in different directions to meet Nostathon's eyes, "We know a secret."
He draws secret out to five syllables.
Nostathon turns to look at Keroen, his dangling eye swaying slightly against his cheek.
Keroen says, "What secret do you know?"
Bloody Head snickers, "There are three holes. We've filled one with chains and Nostathon. But where are the others? We know. But do we know know? Can we find the answer within ourself? Unlikely. We are seldom given to introspection. We should probably just give up thinking hard about it and just go and cull the Nel."
Keroen frowns, "You said Callifay had a point."
Bloody Head shrugs.
"We are fickle. Blood is blood."
Keroen turns to Nostathon and says, "Call up the host, restrain him with violence if necessary."
Nostathon nods and suddenly there is a skitter of thousands of unseen legs, the rustle of a thousand chitinous wings. Sokarnel appear in their hundreds, thousands, an endless horde of ruined Nel encircling Bloody Head and his throne of bone and iron.
Keroen bellows, "Once, the Sleeping Kings stood between Loria, Abernach, and Merobel and I. I ask that the Sokarnel take up their duty. Leave off your tormenting of the young Nel. This creature, this bitter curse upon me, this is your duty. Restrain him with your blades and Gifts and your very bodies."
There is a clatter and clank of weaponry as the Sokarnel draw weapons and silently wait in vigil around the throne of bone and iron that Bloody Head is bound to.
Keroen exhales heavily, a sigh, and says with emotion, "Thank you."
Callifay's brown eyes wander around the horde. He doesn't say anything, only nods. Then he, Nostathon, and Keroen disappear.
Bloody Head has his sickle back in hand. He looks at the horde of Sokarnel.
"We know you all think you're doing your duty, we know you think we're the bad guy, the monster in the dark. You've forgotten. You don't remember the first days. The days where we dimmed the sun and you flew in the world of the living like birds of prey. You don't remember the endless battlefields where you grew fat and bloated on the Gifts of Nel. We gave you that. We are your true Ruler. You are the Sokarnel. The restless dead of battle. Your Gifts reek of death and pain, of blood and metal. We are the same. We will play our game though."
Bloody Head shrugs and chains fly off of him and he steps down from his throne, sending up little puffs of red dust where his bare feet strike the ground. His sickle is in his left hand, longer and heavier than before. He smiles and reveals bloody black fangs.
"Well," he says, "come along then. We have all the time in the world, yes its true, but we are impatient."
Thousands of Sokarnel charge forward to meet Bloody Head in battle, his laughter is the only sound that echoes across the red wasteland of The Nightmare Lands.