Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
In the graveyard, the trees were beginning to grow again. They shaded the grey-green grass of the morning, teared with dew and sunlight. Black shoes crushed them underfoot in an ambling line, making their way between the gravestones.
Gelde had his arms in his cloak, drifting through the thick air of dawn. The trees were magnificent to watch, their young boughs signifying life. Already, the Margrave’s scars had faded from the land. Singed earth brought up new soil, patching itself beryl-green, giving hope of the earth’s will to survive.
The stones, however, told a different tale. The gravestones here were faded deep with ash, the names crudely recarved where the damage had been too great. The Margrave had come from the west, fire in his eyes and an inferno in his hands. His flames had swept through the countryside, bringing a wave of scarlet devastation across the land. He had seemed an unstoppable foe, until one man chose to stand against him.
Gelde stopped, the wind moving on ahead of him. Before him was the only gravestone that wasn’t burnt to smithereens; it stood a simple piece of granite, hewn from Dira Mountain and brought to Deivale by horsecart. Carved into it in neat, medium-sized letters was a name, and a name only.
Tiras Ghostre. Gelde stared at it for a moment, his face blank at the rather unremarkable gravestone. You could never tell that it was the grave of the hero who’d defeated the Margrave five years ago. Then again, Gelde’s brother had never been much for dramatics.
Gelde was no different; he looked down, kicked away the white flowers that had been reduced to petals and leaf-scraps by the elements. Despite all that had been done by the village to grieve his brother’s death, he himself had never mourned. Which was why he was spending his morning at a cemetery instead of any proper social gathering.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to feel pain; rather, Gelde felt as if he couldn’t, not yet. There was too much unanswered, too much that was swept beneath the ostentatious black of funeral ceremonies. He was a man who would not relinquish the past until every thread had woven back safely into the fold.
He knelt down, staring at the meadow that sealed his brother’s resting place. “You left me a mystery, Tiras,” he said, “and you don’t get to die until I’ve solved it.”
The memory flowed back to him, an ice river of information through his mind. The Margrave had burned down the Dunsanine Woods, reaching the outer edges of Deivale with the flames licking at his heels. The villagers had evacuated, escaping up the mountainside where the flames could only roil across the landscape below. But one person had gone back, to stand against the scarlet tide when no one else would.
It hadn’t been Tiras. Gelde’s hand moved unconsciously to the dagger kept beneath his cloak, drawing it and holding it out in front of him. Five years ago, he’d lunged out of the smoke of his house, slicing this knife towards the Margrave’s neck. Today, it was badly melted, stalactites of iron caving from the bent blade, making it look like a lizard’s silver jaw.
Gelde shifted uncomfortably. The same thing had almost happened to his arm back then, as the Margrave turned at the last second, blasting a crackling red inferno into his eyes. His clothes caught fire; he tumbled into the grass aflame. Then came a violent clap; a wave of relief, and peace as his consciousness burned quietly into a blue void.
The villagers had found him lying still, buried in soot; the Margrave had vanished, the houses intact. A few feet away from him was a man's blackened skeleton; they put the pieces together from there.
Bone by bone, Gelde thought, smirking morbid humor.
Tiras was dead. But it was the Margrave that still held a torch in Gelde’s mind, for five years looking back to that single moment. The moment the Margrave had created fire from thin air.
For the few seconds that Gelde had burned alive, he’d kept his eyes open, staring in fear and wonder as the flames blazed around him. At the center of the fire was the Margrave’s bare arm, unburning, and seeming to command the fire itself.
Gelde shook back to reality, his memories falling like ash to the ground. Maybe it was all just fiction, him searching for some spark of hope through his tired eyes. He knelt down, staring through the dirt where those bones lay. “I wish you were here, Tiras,” he murmured, “to tell me whether I’m crazy or not.”
Now that he was looking at it, there was a slight crease in the topsoil, and he could have sworn it moved for a moment. As he stared, the earth furled outwards, cracks appearing ever so slightly as something broke through the surface. For a moment, Gelde actually though his brother had managed to push up a daisy. But then some chalk-white hair poked up from the earth, followed by a rotting scalp.
Gelde raised an eyebrow as a corpse emerged from his brother’s grave.
Its skin was forceful grey, rotten green in the shadows. Like most monsters, its eyes were a volatile red, and its mouth was full of decaying teeth, and talking up a storm.
“Peasant! Are you listening? Peasant!” the head screeched, glaring at Gelde.
“Quit your staring!” The corpse had only made it to neck level, struggling to displace the weight of the earth. “And dig me out of this infernal grave - I’m not dead!”
Gelde bent down to the corpse’s level, looked it in the eye - then discreetly slit its throat. The head toppled backwards, the eyes going wide, lifeless; then, they blinked.
“What the-?” Gelde and the corpse yelped as its head moved back into place, the wound closing bloodlessly.
“So, you’re an Undead class, huh?” Gelde muttered, raising his shoe. “Then the only option is to crush your head.”
“Stop that right now! Can’t you see that I’m human?”
Gelde stomped on the ground in front of the head, glaring down. “In that case, what’s your name? Because I’m pretty sure this isn’t your grave.”
“You...really don’t know me? You don’t know?” The head cackled as it jerked side to side, working its neck out of the ground. “You don’t know who I am! It’s First Lord Primo, you fool! The Burning Margrave!”
Gelde jumped backwards, dropping the dagger. “Shit!”
The Margrave laughed maniacally as the earth erupted around him, revealing two round shoulders with nothing at all attached.
“Huh?” Lord Primo stared at his shoulders, seeing the loose flesh slide around the joint, the ghosts of arms meant to be there. “HUH?!”
“Well, I thought you’d be a danger to the village,” Gelde observed, walking back up to the grave, “but it looks like you’re actually armless.”
“Shut up!” Lord Primo flailed his shoulders indignantly, lashing out at the youth.
Gelde smirked. “Sorry; I imagine you find this quite disarming.”
Lord Primo pushed his shoulders against the ground, trying to wrench himself free. “You swine,” he growled, “I’ll incinerate you!”
“You and what armies?”
The Margrave howled, writhing in his earthen entrapment. Gelde responded by kicking dirt in his face. As the Margrave spat out the dirt in disgust, Gelde leaned back, resting on a gravestone.
Brother, are you watching? I’m taking our revenge. He yawned, drawing his foot back to skid another load of dirt into Primo’s mouth. Should’ve gotten up later, though…
“Dammit!” Lord Primo gurgled, sobbing as he beat his head against the ground. “To think I would cheat death, only for this to happen to me!” Coughing, he disgorged a lump of soil from his throat before continuing bleakly, “Why is this happening?”
“You’re asking that?” Primo looked up to see Gelde Ghostre staring down at him with a blizzard in his eyes. “After a monster like you burns our fields, what choice do we have but to fight back? My brother understood that, and that’s why he fought against you.”
Prisms slid into Gelde’s vision and spiked the light, forcing his eyes away. Primo didn’t notice, instead turning his head in confusion. “Your brother?” His eyes widened as he saw the name carved on the gravestone. “That’s right, Tiras. That airhead prick...who the hell killed him?”
The Margrave grunted as Gelde’s shoe came down on his forehead. “You mean it wasn’t you?” the boy asked, nonchalantly grinding his sole on Primo’s head.
“No!” Primo hissed, jerking his head to escape the punishment. “Not that it wouldn’t have been, if it weren’t for his moronic Rune!”
“A rune, hm?” Gelde walked around Primo to sit on the gravestone. He kicked his feet out continuously, knocking the corpse’s head with each blow. “Wonder what that is?”
“It’s - the - mark - from - that - stone - hit - agh!” Primo lashed his stump out, connecting with Gelde’s boot. Panting slightly, he glared up at the boy. “The one that gave me my power.”
“And you’re saying my brother had one of these, too?”
Gelde fell silent, contemplating as he sat on his brother’s gravestone. Primo looked around before grimacing. “It looks like I’m still in Deivale,” he grumbled, dragging his shoulders across the soil. “I’m leaving before any other brats decide they want revenge. Just wait...my estate will tear this place to the ground!”
Flopping his legs onto the surface, he rolled to face Gelde. “And just what are you thinking about?”
“My brother isn’t dead.” Gelde placed a hand on his knee, staring up at the sunrise in the tree. “Or at the very least, he didn’t die here.”
“Hm. Your big brother was close to you, was he?” Primo slid towards him like a fat worm. “Well, maybe I could help you get him back.”
Gelde held up a hand. “Nah. If he chose not to be around, I don’t care. I just can’t stand it when people talk about him. ‘I think Tiras would have liked these flowers.’ ‘Tiras has blessed this sunrise.’ ‘Stand on your head and yodel the Crovidum; Tiras would have wanted it that way.’”
Primo raised an eyebrow, speechless.
“And now I find that you’re still alive, so he didn’t really do anything for the village, did he?” Gelde threw his hands up in disgust. “Ridiculous.”
The Margrave looked down darkly. “Yes...I’m alive again.”
“Even if I don’t know how he died,”
“You’re mistaken.” Primo smirked up at him craftily. “I’m not defeated at all. As long as I hold power over someone, I can never lose. And I hold power over you, Gelde Ghostre: the secret that you so crave!”
“Fascinating,” replied Gelde. “I hold a knife.”
“What’s that got to-” Primo’s eyes bulged as the knife sliced into his back, his expression biting back a curse.
“Now tell me about runes,” Gelde said bluntly, kicking the knife to open the wound further.
“Not...happening.” Primo grunted, as Gelde’s boot came down on the back of his head.
“I’ll tell on you if you don’t.”
“You brat- urgh!”
“You’re a corpse in the sticks of Terra. You don’t even have your own grave. What makes you think you have any power?” Gelde sliced a rude image into Primo’s back as he said this.
“Because - I want it!” Primo growled, lashing out even as it drove the knife deeper into his back. “Do you really think it matters what I’ve become - what I have now! I’m still Lord Primo, and I - I will -”
He stopped as he was uprooted from the ground, the soil falling from his skin. Gelde lifted him by the armpits, sitting him on the gravestone. The Margrave watched as the young man dropped his ruined dagger into the grave, sweeping the dirt on top of it. Patting it down, he turned back to the corpse.
“Between the two of us,” Gelde began, “only one of us was willing to do that all day. Strong-willed people piss me off. Come on, I’ll get you some clothes.”
Primo sat there, stunned, as Gelde Ghostre turned and walked away.
“Are you coming? Or do you need a hand?”
“I’ll kill you!”