Once in the city, Aberion ordered that Bromich be brought to him--if the bearded man still lived. He did indeed. "Bromich," Aberion explained once the man arrived, "I despised Lord Commander Pyrrhus. He was vain, he wasted lives, and he patronized me. Thought that he could control me." He sighed. "For all of his faults, however, he was an able administrator. The man lived and breathed paperwork. I..." he smiled, "not so much."
"Surely one of the Lord Commander's assistants would be a suitable replacement," Bromich began.
"No, they're all the same sort of fool that he is. None of them care for the men. None of them remember what it is like on the front lines. What I need, Bromich, is a Field Commander. Someone who can administer and can lead the soldiers in battle.
"Everything I ask of them, I do myself. Every trial, every campaign, every charge. I will fight and bleed alongside my soldiers." Aberion smiled again. "However, there needs to be someone who is able to direct and strategize as the battle unfolds. I am a good warrior. I know how to kill. What I am less good at, is directing a battle."
"I see," the other man said carefully.
"Bromich, I will lead the men. I will lead the charge myself--I intend to lead every charge myself. I will be their inspiration, their fearless leader, their comrade. But if I am to do so, I cannot worry about paperwork, logistics, or battlefield tactics. I need someone to do that for me while I concentrate on leading the men. Do you understand?"
"I believe I do."
"What I saw today, that was good. You studied the enemy, analyzed them, and instructed others how to defeat them. I would have you do so for my entire army, Bromich. I would make you my Field Commander, that I might focus on being the hammer that strikes the killing blow."
"I would be honored, my Lord."
"More importantly, I wish to distance myself from my father's kingdom. My empire is to be vast, and all members must feel welcome. Anyone, through personal valor, will be able to advance through the ranks. By their merit they shall be rewarded. This is regardless of where they come from, Bromich. Being simply the Kingdom of Aubade will not do. It is not universal enough for my vision: a world under sway of a single empire, united in striving for glory. Pushing the horizon each new day.
"Even more so, I want to ensure that the people of Numos Desert never rebel against me again. I want them to become so incorporated into my empire that they never even realize they were conquered. My father tolerated their flame cult. I would harness it.
"Fire is the crucible that shapes metal and forges men. Fire illuminates, and fire destroys. Fire purifies. Likewise, the sun is a symbol of hope and illumination, and has been our source of victory in these past two battles. There are those who would simply have me rebuild the kingdom of my father, but I will not stop there. I would forge something new. A Flame Dawn."
Pallydium. The shining coastal city was a target like no other, a wealthy and powerful port just waiting to be gobbled up by some other power. Many kingdoms had broken themselves upon its walls. Before his death, Thomas II had aspired to seize its shining halls for himself and had settled into a long siege.
But with the death of the king, the army had rebelled and dispersed. Bands of armed men roamed the countryside, plundering and skirmishing with locals--and each other. Bored, distracted soldiers rallied around strong men.
Ireul was one such strong leader, and his band of soldiers-turned-bandits was well over fifty strong--one of the largest individual contingents, or so he heard. They had made camp along the coast, within sight of the city walls. From there they had launched raids and claimed overflowing chests of loot.
He lounged in his tent, sipping from a golden goblet his men had seized from a museum. An empty dish was sitting at his side, with barely a crumb on it. One of his soldiers entered.
"Sir, the men are hungry."
"How goes the fishing?" he asked.
"We're soldiers, not fishermen," the man growled. "We should be plundering, not scraping around for fish."
Ireul's stomach echoed the soldier's growl. "We've already raided the local villages and taken everything they have. Eventually we'll have to learn how to subsist on our own."
"If there's nothing else to take here, then I say we leave."
Ireul rose to his feet. "Is that so? And how long have you been in charge, Derek?"
"Why should we starve here?"
"Pallydium, Derek, that's why. Once that city cracks we'll have more riches than even you can dream of."
"Pallydium didn't crack for Thomas, it's not gonna crack for you," Derek countered. "Plenty of other bands have moved on. I say we do the same. There's good pickings to the east, and work too. This new Flame Dawn is offering food and glory to any who sign up."
"I'm in charge here, Derek, not you," Ireul snarled. "And I say we continue waiting Pallydium out. Unless you want to fight?" There was a pause, and the man hesitated. "So you do want to fight me for leadership, Derek. Very well. I suppose it's only a matter of time before you muster up the courage. Or stab me in the back."
The soldier drew his sword. "I'll wager you've gone soft, sitting around on the riches we've plundered."
Ireul laughed. "Then come and collect your bets." Drawing his sword, he beckoned Derek forward with his left hand. Taking a deep breath, the other man charged, roaring.
Ireul blocked his blow and ran him through, then discarded the body. "Hmm... second one in as many days. Maybe I should be doing something differently."
Another man walked into the tent, someone Ireul didn't recognize. Not that he knew all of his men anyway, and he got new recruits all the time, so it didn't matter. The man was bigger than Ireul and carried a massive warhammer.
"What do you want?"
"Pallydium," the man said simply. "And your troops."
Ireul scoffed. "You won't take it with fifty men," he pointed out.
"Maybe with fifty thousand," the man replied. "But I need every sorry son of Aubade back in line to reclose the siege that you idiots discarded. Besides, the more men I have and the more we prepare, the fewer will die." He grinned. "There's plenty of glory to go around anyway."
"Who are you?" Ireul asked, still holding his bloody blade and eyeing the man. Can I take him in a fight?
"Aberion, soldier. Son of Thomas II, leader of the Flame Dawn. And I need every skilled warrior I can find." He looked disdainfully at the corpse. "Having trouble controlling your men?"
"They'll fall in line," Ireul replied.
"They already have," Aberion said. "Now, will you?"
The walls of Pallydium shone in the morning sun. Fifty thousand soldiers in the crimson and gold armor of the new Flame Dawn empire surrounded the port. Armed with weapons purchased from Genesis Industries, trained in the finest military education known to Talich, under the command of Bromich, and lead by Aberion, these troops were destined to prevail.
Even so, the city had held out, not even bothering to negotiate terms of surrender. It was hoped that another force would attack the Flame Dawn in some far corner of its empire, perhaps another rebellion in the east--something, anything to distract the conquerors at their gates. But nothing had dared to challenge Aberion's might since he had reconquered his father's far-flung kingdom.
Banners fluttered in the wind, displaying the new insignia: the black hawk of Aubade imposed on a crimson circle, symbolizing the rising sun. Flames surrounded the hawk like an aura of destruction--the destruction of the Flame Dawn's enemies.
The sun was rising, reflecting off of the polished walls of the city. Aberion, standing at the head of the army, grinned. "Bromich," he said, "when will the angle of light allow us to attack?"
The radio in his helmet buzzed. "Thirty minutes, sir."
From his father's ashes, Aberion had built a new and stronger empire, one that could grow and expand indefinitely. One where the conquered became the conquerors of the next people, and the next, and the next, until the whole world would fall under his sway. Where cultural divides would fall away before the strength of arms and the united quest to carry the human potential as far as it could go.
He had surrounded himself with like-minded men, capable warriors and leaders he could trust. Bromich, Ireul, Nix, Sacullas, and more. As more men and women proved themselves worthy, they too would rise into his circle of trust. All who showed their merit would be rewarded for it.
Smiling to himself, Aberion raised his hammer high and began to address all of his soldiers in their far-flung positions. Bromich had planned the attack, had planned it meticulously and well. The Hammer of the Dawn hadn't bothered himself with the details, as he knew that Bromich could handle it. He only concerned himself with the part that he had to play.
"Soldiers of the Flame Dawn!"He roared, and he was met with a deafening reply. "Welcome to Pallydium! For centuries this city has stood, unconquered, arrogant. Wealthy. Their high walls have repulsed army after army. But high walls cannot stop the Dawn! High walls cannot keep out the sun! My father's ambition was to take the city, but I assure you this: we will take Pallydium, and we will not stop there. I will leave my father behind as we bring the light of the new dawn to the whole world.
"For too long these people have hidden behind their walls, confident that their fortifications will be sufficient for their defense. For too long they have grown lazy, and decadent, and rich at others' expense. They have no discipline! They have no honor! They have no glory!
"We will take the fight to them, and prove that they are weak! We will surmount those shining walls and show those cowering fools what it means to fight, what the crucible of war makes of men and women. We will show them your greatness, greatness achieved through trial and combat, through endurance and courage. We will show them the light of the Dawn!
"Onward! Onward to glory! Onward to victory! The light shows us the way. As the sun envelopes the whole world in its light, so shall we! Onward to Pallydium!"