The Morningstar Chronicles: Part I
Rise of the Morningstar
Chapter Forty-Five: Fragile Alliances
And then the Day of War arrived. My first waking breaths were unlike any I’d breathed before, as if every inhalation was a warrior’s breath: strong and capable, ambitious and destined. But there in that moment, time stood still. I didn’t move; I just kept my eyes closed and let the air gracefully dive into my lungs, refreshing me from within while my thoughts became still. It was peaceful. Serene. A gentle calm before the storm. I knew the moment my feet touched the ground, that sanctuary would dissipate like a cloud agitated by the wind, but at the same time, knowing it would fade made it that much more beautiful... because it could never be around long enough to be taken for granted. Every second of it was more valuable than the last until it was gone forever.
When that moment came and I sat up in my bed, it was as if every good memory from the past visited me, reminding me of why I had to bring war to the doorstep of a place I once called home. Reminding me of the reason I had to fight, and what I stood to lose. And not just me, but everyone around me who deserved the same freedom I was ready to give my life for... or at least the lives I was ready to give in my place. I was much too valuable to die and even more irreplaceable to sacrifice. Fate had created a dream for the world that was meant to reshape it forever, and entrusted the task to me, and me alone; I was its rightful vessel to be used as the catalyst for even greater things to come. The one chosen over every other.
I slipped on my pants, my new boots over top. Strapped on my knives and concealed them with my cloak. And when my body had been consumed almost entirely by black, I slipped on my mask, and was lost in its persona once more.
The moment I left my room that morning, it was as if the universe made time itself run slower, allowing every moment to linger for me, every intricate detail to be embraced. As if the realms of gods and men overlapped just long enough for me to see and feel what it was like to live behind the Great Curtain that separates humanity’s cluelessness from the universe’s omniscience — a place where everything made sense and everything seemed right. There’s security in that kind of confidence. And on a day when so much was riding on so little, to be free of Fear’s chokehold, free of all worry and doubt… it was an emotional armour no arrow could pierce. I was called to lead when I had no followers; misfortune had always been my catalyst to opportunity. But that day, no valley would precede my ascension as it always had in the past; I no longer felt like the mountain climber, but the mountain itself — the one that others had to climb over. I felt invincible.
I took that feeling with me as I searched the halls for the other members of The Silence to rally. I checked Simeon’s room first, but he wasn’t there; Zebulun’s room was empty; every room, nook and cranny carried little more than a shattered expectation. Not even the faintest whisper echoed through the halls for me to track — when The Silence went silent, they really knew how to play with a man’s thoughts.
As I went to leave the final room, however, the door slammed shut, the bedside candle blew out, and the floor began to fill with smoke. It was pitch black. I drew my knives and started feeling around for a way out, but there was nothing. It was only after my survival instinct kicked in that fifteen candles began to light around the room in rapid succession, one-by-one, until I found myself in the middle of a shadowy Stonehenge, surrounded by black cloaks.
“My lord,” Dan said as he knelt down before me and offered up a sword with both hands.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“A token of our appreciation,” Blackheart said.
“Appreciation for what?”
“For leading us, of course!” Judah answered.
“For being a good friend,” Ephraim added.
“For being cute,” Asher flirted.
“For not killing us when you could have,” Zebulun joked.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said as I took hold of the sword from Dan’s hands. “Thank you.”
“I stole it from Madam Green’s vault,” Dan expanded, proclaiming his thievery with a look in his eye that didn’t sit right with me, “which is why my horse was there when you arrived last time. I didn’t know you’d be showing up there to spoil the surprise.”
“Maybe,” I thought to myself, still cautious of falling prey to his underhandedness, “unless this is just your cover for something much more cloak-and-dagger.”
“This was from Madam Green’s vault? How’d you get it without getting caught?” I asked.
“The details aren’t important. What’s more worth talking about is what the sword you hold in your hands can do,” Dan replied, walking toward me, ready to demonstrate.
“Just extend the hilt here…” he twisted the bottom, pulling it out a little further.
Every flame on the candles around the room left its wick and attached itself to my blade, swirling upon its surface.
“You’ve got… to be kidding me.”
“Whatever element is closest to the blade at the time of activation,” Dan explained, “is drawn from a five-metre radius and is held upon its blade until you release it. Water, fire, wind… even earth and rock, though I wouldn’t advise it, unless you’re Manasseh here.”
“This is unbelievable,” I said, staring at the blade in amazement.
“You deserve it,” Blackheart added. “From all of us.”
“Now let’s go win us a war!” Gad cheered, throwing his fist into the air to rally us up as he ran to the door with overflowing enthusiasm… only to find it was still locked. At first, I thought we’d accidentally locked ourselves in, caught up in the moment, but when I heard Issachar chuckle quietly and saw the key in his hand, watching Gad try to keep the fervour of the moment alive while trying to open the door became that much more entertaining.
“Heh… going to war… yeah!” he awkwardly reinforced while he jiggled the handle a few more times, trying to cover up his attempts with some forced coughing. It didn’t work, but it did turn an anti-climactic attempt at opening the door into a much more amusing one. When the line between amusement and cruelty started to blur, however, Issachar decided to step in and save what was left of Gad’s dignity.
“Do you need some help there, Gad?” Issachar asked, smiling.
“Help? Heh, heh... with what? Everything’s fine here...”
“Here, let me get that for you,” Issachar leaned in, not even trying to conceal his laughter anymore.
Gad let out a sigh and reluctantly walked over to us.
“The uhh,” he pointed behind him with his thumb, “door’s locked.”
“Your perseverance was still commendable,” I said with a smirk and a hand on his shoulder. “There’s always next time.”
Issachar opened the door with a hollow click and held out his arm, motioning for us to pass through. “Gad’s unbeatable adversary has been conquered, everyone. You may now pass through with ease.”
We filed out of the room laughing, sympathetically patting Gad on the back as we passed by him.
“First an escaped pig, now a locked door?” Issachar teased Gad as he was the last to leave. “We’re going to have to start holding try-outs.”
“It’s gonna happen to you one day, and when it does, I won’t let you forget it,” Gad warned.
With our new-found freedom, we made our way to the church doors, opening them only to find ourselves looking upon a sea of faces. The Sipondelis had gathered in the streets, filling every corridor, every pathway, awaiting my next instruction. Almost every eye looking back at me reflected a fear that churned deep inside them — but their fears were of little concern to me. What was of concern to me was their lack of armour, their dull, dagger-length swords, and wooden shields warped by time as if they’d been torn from the bark of trees that lost their will to live centuries ago. Valenvy’s guards were the exception of course, but even so, to look upon that gathering as a whole was to feel the inspiration of a three-legged dog who did little more than lie in the shade all day under the weight of his own depression. They were there, but not ready; equipped, but unprepared. It was that pitiful, undeveloped group of push-overs that would make up the vast majority of my army… but they would have to do. After all, every victory requires some sacrifice — they just made knowing what and who to sacrifice when the time came that much easier.
“Follow me into battle this day, People of Sipondel,” I bellowed. “Leave behind the pathetic lives you live and become something more. You have fear? Good! Embrace it; let your fear drive you to evolve into greatness. But mistake this day as being like any other, and your deaths one day will go as unmourned as the insects of the field — your lives as uncelebrated as the existence you now lead. Come with me now, seize this day in history as your own, and you will live on forever in story and song, mourned for all eternity by those who never even knew you.”
“And if we choose to stay behind?” a man’s voice in the crowd called out as I was mounting my horse.
“What’s the use in prolonging life if you don’t do anything with it? Would death really be that different from the life you now lead? Fate has given you this day as a gift — an opportunity to not only honour the hard work of all those before you, but to continue it, correct their mistakes, and pave a path for future generations that each and every one of you here today can only dream about. Your life is not a countdown to your death, but a stepping stone for the lives that will live after you. Squander today, and you will find yourself useless tomorrow.”
And with that, I snapped the reins and took off into the crowd, barely giving them time to part before me. I knew they were relying on me to put their hearts and minds at ease, but I was not there to coddle them; I was there to call them to something greater. Emotional states change like the wind, and to indulge them only gives them more power over a person. I was there to free them, not captivate them, least of all to themselves.
For the next few hours, we walked the land, through over-grown forest and wide open plain, bound for Nightshade’s Crossing. I led the way with Blackheart to my right, while the rest of The Silence fell in behind us on horseback. The Sipondeli people trailed behind them, on foot, of course — not an easy journey to make, considering how far we had to go, but as long as they made it to the battlefield, the condition of their feet didn’t matter. Hunger, on the other hand, was an unavoidable annoyance; I didn’t want them getting to the battle and passing out before their duties could be completed, but at the same time, having to feed people who would be dying in just a few more hours seemed like a waste of our rations. Nonetheless, they were fed anyway — in part to boost their energy, in part to keep their morale up. Not that it was very high to begin with, but every bit counts. Most physical battles begin once mental ones have been lost, anyway. Conquer the mind, conquer the body.
We stopped to set up camp briefly when we were about halfway there, close to where the road splits toward the Dark Kingdom — the place where The Silence and I emerged from the forest for the first time as we headed for Sipondel all those years ago. As food and drink were passed around the camp, I gathered The Silence around me to discuss their specific roles.
“I have here the list of Sipondeli names Benjamin categorized for us after Father Green’s funeral. You’ve all been mingling with these people for a couple of years now, so I suspect you will all know these people when you hear their names. According to the list, there are roughly 1000 ‘individualist thinker’ types; Blackheart and Simeon, I want you to take this group when we’re done here; Blackheart will take 200 of those and set up four strategically-placed outposts of 50 people around the Dark Kingdom for present and future surveillance — the rest will follow you, Simeon. Take them into the tunnels through our base in the forest. The church should be empty when you get there, but if it’s not, wait until it is before leading them into the streets of the Dark Kingdom. Pace it out as long as you like, so one-by-one our troops can blend into the population. Your stealth here is imperative to our success.”
“You got it,” Simeon confirmed.
“Your main objectives are to unlock and open the main gate as stealthily as possible, then signal us from a rooftop once all your people have doused the kingdom in oil and are safely out of the way for when our fire arrows rain from above. We’ll launch them upon your signal.”
“You bet,” he confirmed again.
“Blackheart, I’ll need you to establish a leader — some sort of hierarchy — in each of the outposts so the people have a clear idea of how to resolve their disagreements.”
“Keep in mind,” Benjamin added, “these are individualist thinkers, so if you establish a hierarchy, make sure it’s no deeper than one or two levels at most. These people are empowered and most effective when they see themselves at the top of a chain, and start to become troublesome when there are too many above them with differing views.”
“I will,” Blackheart verified.
“Then, join back up with us in the outer-perimeter,” I instructed him. “That brings us to the people you have listed here as my future ‘enforcers’, Benjamin. I’ll need these people kept as safe as possible for the duration of the fighting, because once the Dark Kingdom is ours, I’ll need them to establish and keep order.”
“They’ll be kept close. I’ll use them as part of a flanking strategy — you’ll lead the forces in first, and we’ll follow later once the fighting has died down a bit.”
“Perfect. If you see we need the assistance, however, don’t hesitate to bring them into the thick of things early — because if we don’t win the war, there’ll be nothing for them to enforce anyway.”
“The rest of us will line up shoulder-to-shoulder as discussed around the Dark Kingdom itself. When the fire arrows have been launched and the horn has sounded, let Congreed and Madam Green charge the kingdom first. If anyone is going to die first among us, let it be our allies. Keep that in mind at all times as you’re fighting. Instruct the units you take command of in this manner, so their actions may reflect the same approach; we don’t want them being aware of it, nor having to struggle with it morally. Their minds should be clear at all times and focused on one thing only — winning this war so they can spend the rest of their days in peace with their families.”
“A curious approach...” Naphtali’s voice was heard from a branch of the tree above us.
We were all overjoyed to see her. She couldn’t have returned at a better time.
“Naphtali... I’m so glad you decided to come back,” Blackheart said as he stood to his feet, kissing her on the cheek and she climbed down the tree with ease.
“It was never a question in my mind, Blackheart,” she tenderly replied.
“Same here; the girl power around here was starting to take a beating,” Asher joked as Elektra got up and ran to hug Naphtali. She smiled.
“Where did you go, anyway?” Ephraim asked.
“I went to seek truth and advice from an old friend... someone I was once very close with that I thought could give me counsel regarding something that had been plaguing my mind,” she responded generally with an odd glance in my direction.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” I asked, wondering why her eyes were focused on me.
“I did; something I’d like to talk to you about in private, if I may...”
I nodded as we walked off into the woods away from prying ears and sat on a fallen tree trunk together. “What is it?”
“Morningstar... I went to the Dark Kingdom.”
“I see...” I said, standing up, starting to pace slowly.
The situation you told us about — the killings, the tyranny of the Dark One, his oppression of everyone in his kingdom — none of it was true.”
“Look, Naphtali, I don’t know what you—”
“Wait,” she spoke calmly, placing an understanding hand gently on my forearm in an attempt to soften my sensitivity to her words. “Before you jump to conclusions, come sit with me. Hear me out. There’s something I need to say.”
I stood there looking at her, hoping she wasn’t about to use her legacy and undeniable reputation with The Silence to undo all I’d been working so hard towards — exposing the lies I’d built everything upon.
“Please,” she reinforced, hoping to still the churning volcano within me.
I sat back down, slightly further away on the log than my original spot.
“Morningstar, when I was in the Dark Kingdom, and I saw the truth of what was going on, my first thought wasn’t one of anger, nor was I displeased that you didn’t tell us the truth. Far too many people allow broken egos and wounded prides to convince them to seek justice before they seek understanding. So I asked myself instead what might have caused you to go through all that trouble to construct a lie when you were already accepted for who you were among us, fully in the comfort of our company, with all your needs taken care of. I thought back to all our training sessions, our talks, remembered your speeches, recalled your interactions with the others... and I realized something I never noticed in you before.”
“And what’s that?” I snapped semi-defensively. I hated when people acted like they knew me.
“You’re a Voltairib.”
“A world-changer; someone whose destiny calls them to fix things far beyond the typical throes of ordinary life. They are born with dispositions unlike most of the people you meet; often you can see it in them as children, but it’s usually not until they mature, soul-search, and begin to question the established order that the world begins to take notice. They are the universe’s way of bringing balance back to a world that our naturally chaotic, human energy slowly tears apart.
However, Voltairibs are rarely born with the inherent, unshakable good inside them needed to bring about such a rebalance; they must be shaped and sculpted as human beings the same way everyone else is: through nature and nurture instead of divine intervention. In turn, they are equally susceptible as everyone else is to the allurement of the dark side of our humanity — especially when they start to become aware of the potential they possess within themselves. It’s that potential that drives them to accomplish that which will gain them power, recognition, and status — things that are not inherently dark, but can easily persuade the mind to focus on the things of the self, instead of the good of others.
I believe that you have the spirit of a Voltairib within you, Morningstar, incessantly driving you to accomplish everything you can until you feel you’ve lived a life of not just meaning, but of significance. For a time, it may seem like these accomplishments will bring you happiness and satisfaction in the end, but they won’t — no matter what the dark desires of your heart promise to deliver with your success. Gaining satisfaction through accomplishments is and will always be a slippery slope, because there will come a time when you realize you have accomplished all that is within your power to accomplish in the realm of good, and will have nowhere else to turn but to the realms of greed and powerlust to find the satisfaction you crave. The more powerful you grow, the harder it will be to avoid becoming reprehensible. Continue along that path, and you will crumble beneath the weight of the ambitions you can no longer keep up with — and on that day, will bring about the death and destruction of everyone and everything around you. A finite life cannot compete with an infinite list of things to accomplish. You need to choose wisely.”
“So I should just stop accomplishing?”
“Not at all; without accomplishments, we’d have no evolution as a civilization. Just be careful of which accomplishments you pursue and know where your pursuits are taking you at all times. Never overestimate the strength of the torchbearer’s arm, for even the strongest arms grow weary.”
“But you’re saying I need to be happy while doing it or I’ll bring about the death and destruction of everyone around me...”
“I’m saying unhappiness gives birth to anarchy; it will sneak up on you, and, as Zebulun once put it, ‘will rig your life with explosives and push the detonator when you least expect it, turning your whole world to dust.’ Remember your training: the path to happiness begins with possibility, and from possibility comes choice, and then direction, and then purpose before you get a chance at satisfaction. There is more to it, however: if you think you know what your purpose is, but can never seem to gain satisfaction from it, then it’s probably not the purpose you’re destined for.”
“I see. So all this talk about purpose and happiness and accomplishments... why tell me all this now?”
“I’m telling you now both as a warning and as a reminder to you: we are assassins, and we facilitate the flow of the greater good to all —not only to the deserving, because that is not for us to distinguish. At times, we are required to intervene, but only do so when it becomes necessary — after all other peaceful options have been exhausted. This is one of those peaceful options,” she leaned in, taking a firm grasp of the cloth on my chest as her other hand fell upon the sheathed dagger at her side. “Now I’m going to talk, and you are going to listen without interruption. Understand?”
“I know that what you’re doing is not based in truth. Yet, I have also seen you, heard you, and know you are capable of great things. As a kind gesture of faith, I will keep what I know between you and I alone, and continue to follow you as long as you don’t cross the line. But know that what you plan to do — going through with this war — it isn’t assassination, or conquest... it’s genocide. And I will never condone that, even in the name — or under the façade — of the unity of all others who remain.” She released her grip, but kept her deadly glare. “I saw this coming and should have spoken sooner, but I held my tongue because I thought that maybe you would create a warpath so disastrous, that both the good and the bad ahead of you would be cleared away, wiped out, leaving the possibility of a fresh start behind you for all of humankind — a chance for unity to bloom in a time of need and reconstruction. But then I realized to believe that, I would be compromising myself. Peace does not exist because there is nothing left — it exists because everything is right, and learned to tolerate everything else. So mark my words and mark them well, apprentice: serenade Lady Death and court Disaster, and soon your enemy will be your master.”
And with that, she stood up and walked away without even a glance back at me. I’d never seen that side of her before... and it wasn’t one I wanted to see again.
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