Chapter 25: Defiance

Chapter 25: Defiance

Oren Yushkov, usurper of the Kosul crown, arrives in Argenport with tales of cruelty following in his wake. Threatening war if Kaleb, Eilyn, or Vara interfere, Yushkov severs all ties between Kosul and its allies. This leaves Svetya, the last surviving member of the Kosul royal family, cut off from all support; adrift in an unfamiliar city.

As an early winter blankets Myria, citizens of Argenport and Kosul alike must decide if they will succumb to the numbing cold, or defy it.

The bar was smoky and underlit. Melted snow pooled on the steps leading down from the alleyway entrance, and bottles clinked as patrons played cards around worn wooden tables. A longhorn picked away at a piano in the corner, and a solitary couple whirled across the pitted dance floor.

It reminded Milos of home.

Friends! Rebels!

He had fled Rakano when his father died at the First Battle of Argenport, and he had yet to return. His life after that—hell, the life of all rebels—had been endless persecution. There had been some victories, but many more bloody losses. He never thought he would end up in Argenport, but with one of their first decrees, Kaleb and Eilyn had pardoned the surviving rebels. Sometimes the dice break your way.

Dodging the dancers, Milos pushed open a pair of saloon doors to the back room of the dingy bar. He was greeted with a chorus of cheers, and someone called out, “What’s the news, boss?” Milos grinned. The long tables were crowded with rabble-rousers, renegades, and other rebels. His people. From the look—and smell—of things, they were still celebrating their pardon.  They’re happy, Milos thought. Safe and relaxed, for the first time in years… and I’m about to change all that.

“Friends!” ” he called out, to a cheer from the small crowd. “Rebels!” drew a larger reaction, as he knew it would, as the assembly toasted their general with foaming drinks. Milos waved them down, winking at one of his lieutenants, and continued. “Argenport is finally free from the Iron Fist's grasp, but that doesn’t mean our work is done.” There were a few whoops, but many of the rebels quieted, eyeing Milos cautiously.

Taking a deep breath, he said, “Three days ago, a foreign tyrant came to Argenport. Oren Yushkov. Calls himself the savior of Kosul. But the way I hear it, his coup was a bloody, bad business. And it’s only getting worse.” Milos looked up at his freedom fighters. “Yushkov is more brazen than Rolant ever was. People are dying in the streets. He needs to be stopped. It’s a cold march to Kosul, but with a hardy guide we ca—”

“Why?” One of the rebels interrupted.

“Why?” Milos frowned, “Because it ain’t right. This Yushkov’s a murderer, he—”

“But why us?” the man demanded. “The Iron Fist’s dead. We won. Well… those of us who survived.”

There was a rumble of assent from the room. “Argenport’s changed,” a soldier added, rising from her seat. “The Crownwatch fights alongside the Clans rather than against them.” She smiled and added, “We’re pardoned, free. I can go back to Rakano and see my wife again.”

This time there were cheers. “Sorry boss,” someone grunted, “this jus’ ain’t our fight.”

Can I blame them? Milos thought. Ever since Rolant ended the First Battle of Argenport in a nightmare of hellfire, they had been branded as outlaws and criminals. They had fought and killed to survive, to keep the truth of Rolant’s crimes alive. Everyone at this table has lost dear friends and close allies. Can I really ask them to throw themselves back into the fight?

'If we can act, we must.'

“If we do nothing, things will get worse—for everyone. If we can act, we must.” It was something his father, General Izalio had said before the battle. Milos hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but the room went quiet. If we can act, we must.

“You’re right,” Milos added, thoughts racing. “We’ve all been to hell and back. Lived in caves, scavenged barren fields, and worse.” He saw some of them nod, and pressed on. “And it’s happening again. Not to us, no, but it’s happening all the same. What if we could stop it this time? What if, when the chips were down, other folks had come to help us—for no reason other than it was the right thing to do?”

A tired voice from the back answered, “But they didn’t.”

The room was silent. Milos pointed at the saloon doors. “I’m walking out those doors to go see if I can make a difference. I won’t think less of those who stay behind, you’ve earned that much. But we have to act now. Because we should, and because we can.”

Outside the bar, the alleyway funneled a chill breeze into a biting gale. Milos grimaced and pulled his collar up. He had grown up in his father’s rebellion. He remembered the faces on the survivors on the day it all burned to emerald ashes. He had watched life forge every single person in that room into hardened veterans. They were his friends, his family.

He hoped they would follow him now.

Winter nights in Kosul start cold and turn dangerous. The main streets of the capital were lit with roaring bonfires, keeping the cobbles free from the worst of the wet, heavy snow. At one such post, two sentries held their hands over the flames, ignoring their patrol around the small, brick warehouse in favor of a warm seat. The revolution was over, they’d won, so what was there to worry about?

The back alleys were not so hospitable. Heavy stone walls radiated cold, and slick ice coated the ground.

“Careful,” a man in beaten armor whispered. “Is the back door still clear?”

“One of the guards was roasting a sausage. They’re not moving,” a short figure behind him hissed, pulling a heavy, fur-lined cloak to cover a bulging pack slung across her shoulder.

“Poor bastards,” the last figure in the alleyway grunted. “I almost feel sorry for them.”

“They’re Yushkov’s men. You know what they did at the palace.” The first figure chided, leaning out from the alleyway to scan the dark street. “Coast’s clear, come on.”

Boots crunching, the group dashed to the mouth of the next alleyway. From there, they cut through an abandoned stable, ducking between bear stalls and barrels of frozen fish, and found themselves at the back of the warehouse. The brown brick was old and crumbling, but the door set in it was heavy, it’s reinforced hinges gleaming with new steel. The leader frowned, cursing beneath his breath.

Out of my way

“Out of my way,” the elf muttered, pulling out a small velvet case and crouching down by the door. Her companions turned to face back down the alleyway as she worked, hands tightening on their weapons.

“You sure about this?” The large, older man said, breath hanging in the night air.

“It makes sense,” the leader replied, keeping his voice low. “The Usurper was able to arm his fanatics quickly when he took Korovyat, and now they have guards posted at this old warehouse.”

The other grunted, nodding. “Hope it slows them down.”

“Don’t know about hope,” the leader said with a tight smile. “Just want to see ‘em dancing from a gallows, or an axe over their necks. Especially Yushkov’s dark priest. I heard he took some of the wounded from the palace for his own…experiments.”

The large man grimaced, “I don’t know about that. But I heard tell of a larger resistance. Somewhere in the capital.”

Kosul will fight.

His friend nodded, “Kosul won’t take this lightly. And after tonight Yushkov’s mob will be fighting with sticks.”

“It’s open!” The elf whispered, pushing the steel door. It swung inwards on well-oiled hinges, and the group peered into the darkened warehouse. It was full, swords and firearms all sitting in rows of straw-packed crates. The larger man whistled in appreciation.

“These are Ixtun-make. The traitor must have smuggled them in ahead of time.”

“You know what to do,” the leader said, clapping the elf on the shoulder. Her heavy bag clanked, its leather strap creaking under the contents’ weight. Nodding, she sheathed her dagger and got to work as the other two stood guard.

Two hours later, an explosion consumed the warehouse and everything inside it.

The Kosul revolt had begun.