Morteus wiped his eyes and stared blearily into the space in front of him.
Wha- What on Earth? His vision focused, and he was momentarily baffled by his absurd surroundings. He was in a completely sealed room, plastered and muddy brown. Only a large door with menacing steel bars provided any means of escaping.
Then his mind cleared and he finally grasped the situation he was in.
He had been captured.
He tried to remember what had happened to him and drew in a short breath as all the memories came rushing back.
I must be so naïve. He thought of Isoldé. How am I to know that she isn’t working for King Periphral? She could’ve collaborated with the soldiers to capture me.
He scanned the room around him, looking for any other escape routes. There was the locked door, and besides the stack of prickly hay he was sitting on, there was little else.
“Hello?” He pressed his head against the bars of the door and bellowed, hearing his voice echo down the corridor.
The sound of frantic footsteps came towards him, and Isoldé came into view. She stood outside the door with an apologetic smile that could charm thousands. Morteus wasn’t deluded, though.
“Oh, Morteus. You’ve woken up. I’m sorry I had to drug you. It was to ensure the safety and seclusion of our premises. But now that you’ve recovered, Count Von Mont would like to see you.”
Who’s Count Von Mont? Morteus’ head swirled. He can’t be working for King Periphral, can he? He maintained his icy gaze. “You captured me.”
“Captured you?” Isoldé chuckled. “Not at all.”
The door clicked open, revealing a dark tunnel beyond. “Come on. I’ll escort you to Count Von Mont. You have a lot of questions, I suppose?” Isoldé beckoned for him to follow.
Morteus glared at her. “You won’t stun me again, will you?” He looked around at the long tunnel.
Isoldé chuckled wryly. “Is that what’s on your mind? No, I assure you I won’t.”
“Who’s Count Von Mont?” Morteus felt like he was being played. He had no idea what was going on. And this wasn’t the first time either.
“You’ll see soon enough,” Isoldé led him down a dark corridor, and Morteus found that there was no choice but to follow. The place seemed to be plunged into darkness. There were only a few light bulbs dangling from the plastered ceiling above.
“How long have I been… knocked out?” Morteus had a vague feeling that it was nighttime already, due to the surrounding darkness.
“Only an hour or so,” Isoldé answered. Then she seemed to read Morteus’ mind. “The darkness is due to the lack of windows in this place. As for that, you’ll see why soon enough.”
Morteus nodded. All his questions had been answered, but none actually was of any help to him in discerning his current situation.
“Here we are,” Isoldé led him to a dimly lit hall draped with dark purple curtains. She walked across the red-carpeted floor and motioned for Morteus to go forward.
“Sir, I’ve brought Morteus,” She stepped back into the darkness, only represented by a faint silhouette.
Morteus shivered involuntarily as he walked forward towards the raised platform.
“Very nice of you to drop in, Morteus,” The dark brown leather chair on top of the platform swiveled around, revealing an old man in a black cape.
His face was covered in wrinkles, deepened by the dark surroundings. His sharp, nearly pitch black eyes were alert and darting from side to side. His cropped dark hair didn’t cover the scar that stretched over one side of his face. The scar was different from Marlin’s- more warped and deformed- he would have succeeded in impersonating the Phantom of the Opera. Morteus tried to tear his gaze away from the repugnant image, but was drawn with morbid fascination.
Morteus let out a slight gasp. “Who are you?”
“I expected more than that from you. Shouldn’t you have been taught to be more courteous, considering you grew up with… Periphral?” The man eyed him. Then he stood up and looked right into his eyes. “I’m Count Von Mont.”
“Oh,” was all Morteus could say.
“Now, you must be wondering why I wanted to see you. Or asked Isoldé to save you, for that matter,” Count Von Mont smiled, his attempt to grin failing miserably. “It’s because I’ve been watching you since you were born. I watched you with your father Alistair, then watched as Periphral invaded the castle and took you for his own…”
Morteus stiffened in alarm. “How do you know all this?”
“Why, it’s not that hard to connect the dots,” Count Von Mont strode down the steps. “Your life has been shrouded with misfortune- I can help you.”
“What do you want from me?” Morteus sensed a hidden intention beyond all this.
“My, are you a smart boy,” Count Von Mont circled around him slowly and deliberately. “Well, since you are so eager to skip to the crux of the matter, I shall explain.”
Morteus gulped, shivers running down his spine.
“Actually, what I want is quite simple. I want you to fight against King Periphral. I want you to bring him down. I want the throne,” His eyes’ gleamed with malice and greed.
Morteus stared at the man in front of him. I knew there was an ulterior motive.
“Why do you want me to do that?” Morteus asked. “And why would you tell me that?”
“Why? WHY?” Count Von Mont seemed to go mad with rage for a millisecond. Then as quickly as it had come, his temper passed. “King Periphral conquered my kingdom and stole what was rightfully mine. He killed my parents,” His eyes flashed red and then settled and resumed a calm expression. “But that’s in the past. He killed your parents too, did he not?”
A pang of pain hit Morteus in the stomach. Yes.
“You understand. Then you understand why I need you to help. I need you to help me achieve my objective,” Von Mont pleaded. “All I need is for you to kill the king.”
“What makes you think I’d do that?” Morteus summoned his courage and murmured. He heard a small gasp come from the direction of Isoldé.
“What makes me think you’d do that?” The count lifted Morteus’ chin with one finger, his cold touch immobilizing. “Revenge. Your life is clouded with lies, Morteus. Periphral manipulated you and used you. Up till now, you don’t know who you are, and whether everything in your life is a deception,” He twirled around him, like a snake circling his prey.
That is true. Morteus thought. But how should I know that you’re not deceiving me? Count Von Mont was erratic, a capricious and unpredictable man.
“Revenge is like a poison,” Morteus replied, repeating the old lady’s words. “I’m not taking any part in it,” But I was planning to.
Count Von Mont shook his head, his eyes never leaving Morteus. “Is that really what you think? Revenge… you’ve forgiven all of what Periphral did to you?”
“Forgive but not forget,” Morteus answered, pulling his head away from Count Von Mont. He was lying. I can’t forgive Periphral for killing my father.
Count Von Mont spun around, his robes swirling behind him.‘So you refuse to help me?”
Morteus remained silent.
“No, no you won’t,” The count sensed his hesitation. “You bear too much hate to resist.”
Morteus turned his face away. I’m not going to do this, not for you.
Count Von Mont sat back down on his black chair. “Revenge… it certainly is a reason why you should fight back. But if that’s not reason enough…” He paused for a moment, his gaze never leaving Morteus.
“Well, have I been impolite! Forgive me for my miserable hospitality. Of course, I don’t have as much resources as your dear King Periphral. Isoldé, please pull up a chair for the young man!” Count Von Mont seemed to snap out of his mysterious behaviour and his voice lightened to a friendly tone.
Isoldé brought out a metal chair and offered Morteus the seat. Morteus sat down cautiously, having a premonition of imminent disaster.
“Isoldé, you may leave now,” Von Mont waved his hand, dismissive. Isoldé bowed and backed out of the room.
“You see,” Von Mont continued after seeing her go, “Revenge is not the only reason I strive to slaughter the king. No, of course not. No, I want to be king. I want to change the world- for the better! Help those that have been wronged. Stop the killing of people that matter. Explore new horizons and make a better kingdom! Start a new golden age…” His words seemed genuinely for good.
Morteus sat up in his chair. “Stop the killing…” My father wouldn’t be dead.
“My parents were killed…” A lachrymose expression crossed Von Mont’s face, and Morteus couldn’t tell if it was real. “But it doesn’t matter, I’ll change this place!” Count Von Mont’s expression became animated. “Imagine how wonderful it would be!”
“How do you suppose you’re going to do that?” Morteus asked. The vision seemed fantastical, but it was what the word fantastic was derived from. Fantasy.
“I was getting to that. You see, King Periphral hasn’t been entirely truthful. Actually he hasn’t been truthful at all. He hid your past from you, but that’s not all. He told a lie on a universal scale.”
“What is that?” Morteus whispered, his heart sinking inexplicably.
“The gem. It wasn’t melted in the fire. It exists,” Count Von Mont’s face shone with triumph and longing.
“Right,” Morteus was skeptical, then realized that wasn’t how he was supposed to react. “What gem?” He feigned ignorance.
“A gem that can freeze time,” Count Von Mont caressed the words. “You would have the world at your fingertips. Domination would be yours. With the gem- you could do anything. With boundless time, you could build cities and life… Prosperity would flourish… The world would be so different from what it is now!”
Morteus’ heart felt heavy. Was this right? He could never return to his old life, but- But never mind, Morteus. A voice in him said. Here’s a new opportunity for you to correct all wrong in the past. You could take revenge- then rule the kingdom! His heart filled with excitement and vengeance. Then doubt overrode his elation.
“How could such a gem exist?” Morteus rolled his eyes. “I’m not a fool,” Was Marlin a fool?
“Are you saying that I’m a fool?” Von Mont said dangerously. “This gem does exist, and there’s no doubt about it.”
Morteus looked on in doubt. “If a gem like that really exists…” He shook his head. “So what if it does?”
“Don’t you see? Don’t you see all the power this will bring to us?” Von Mont’s words were entrancing.
Us. Morteus caught the word and even more doubt seeped into his veins. “How am I going to kill Periphral? And even if I could, you could to it yourself and execute it much more successfully. Even Isoldé would be a better candidate. Why do you want me in particular?”
“Why do I want you in particular?” Von Mont stroked his wispy beard. “Yes, that is something to question. Why did I wait nearly sixteen years to defeat King Periphral?”
Sixteen years. That’s how old I am now. Morteus felt that this had, in some way, a connection to him.
“Nearly sixteen years ago, King Periphral invaded the castle, which was- at the time- your father’s domain. Periphral had ruled some smaller parts of the kingdom. In fact, they had been good friends for quite some time. They even worked together to conquer other kingdoms…” Von Mont’s voice hardened at the thought. He paused, seemingly hesitant to continue. Morteus sensed that he was editing something and keeping something from him.
“King Periphral had conquered my father’s kingdom when I was around eighteen. We had the gem then. He took it from us. And that was when I was about to be passed the crown, since I had just come of age,” Von Mont’s face contorted with fury.
“I wanted to take revenge for my fallen father, but I didn’t have the resources. Then when he killed your father two years later, I thought it was a perfect chance to gather people to revolt. It did not work. People loved King Periphral,” The count took a deep breath. “I was fooled along with everyone else, when I heard the gem was melted.”
“If King Periphral conquered your kingdom, then how did my father end up with the gem?” If it exists. Morteus thought to himself.
Von Mont didn’t answer.
Morteus sensed a hidden lie, then nodded for Von Mont’s benefit. “Then do you have an army now?”
“Yes, yes I do, actually. I decided to build my own army to take revenge when I took Isoldé in about a year before you were born. I expect we had enough people by the time you were ten, but then I decided to wait, to recruit you.”
“Why me, though?” Morteus murmured. “That’s what I’ve been asking all along.”
Count Von Mont looked surprised. “Why you?” He paused, looking at Morteus with a queer expression. “Because you’re the one that can cause most damage to the king.”
“Yes, you,” Count Von Mont’s eyes tightened. “You were brought up in his castle, and he was under the impression that you regarded him as a father.”
“I did,” Morteus emphasized the past tense.
“But if you were to attack him now, he would- despite his cruelty- not be able to lay a finger on you,” Count Von Mont seemed slightly displeased at this fact.
“Really?” Morteus considered this in interest. “But he was planning to bring me up, like a pig for slaughter.”
“Well, we can’t be sure about that,” Count Von Mont said. “All I want you to do, is kill him for what he is. Avenge your father. Avenge all those that have died in vain…”
The count seemed sincere.
“And don’t forget the power, the gem, what those would bring…” The words lured Morteus and stirred his imagination.
Morteus walked towards the count and stared up at him.
Power. Revenge. The words were hypnotic as they echoed in his mind over and over again. He had once wondered why there was such a thing as war, and why people even bothered to start it. Now he knew.
Now I know.