Chapter 3
The Roadside Prophet

Outside Grahund, Titan; Anno Titanos 282

"I barely have authority within the walls of my own castle and the lot of you have the audacity to blame me for the fall of Titan! My grandfather waged a costly war that left our defenses in shambles. My mother lost her grip on Cygnus and Psyke and the people in the Konge Province are up in arms the day of my coronation. Even a ruler by divine right cannot face an unruly populace on his own. The kingdom had fallen long before I had even assumed power. Am I to take the blame because the ones responsible are already dead?"
- The Apology of Polonius, King of Titan

It was extremely dangerous to wander outside the village, but Randwulf had grown into a reckless youth. He even dared the unstable heart of the old kingdom and was often away from home for weeks at a time. His mother worried about him and his father made no secret of his disapproval, but there was nothing they could do to stop him. He could care less what they thought. After what had happened to Wolfmar, he obeyed his parents less and less as the years dragged on. Filial piety did nothing for the pile of shredded meat that was once his little brother.
Bandits had tried to rob him countless times, but they were never any match for him. He fought them like a creature possessed. Every mutilated corpse he left behind brought him a little closer to avenging Wolfmar, but it would never be enough. No matter how many he killed, he would never be satisfied. There would always be evil people in the world. If nothing else, at least he would never be out of practice.
He was heading back home after killing some looters in Hellebard. Grahund had just come into sight when he noticed a robed figure along the side of the road. He tightened his grip on his sword. He knew better than let himself be fooled by appearances. After all, he had seen bandits of all sorts: men, women, young, old, thin, fat, tall, short... He did not care who or what they were. If they dared to challenge him, he would not hold back.
As he came closer to the figure, it raised a staff with a human skull at the head. Randwulf stopped a few paces away from where it stood, ready to strike at the slightest provocation.
"You are quite powerful," the figure said. Judging from the voice, it was an old man. "But you are not as powerful as you could be. The glory of your ancestors lies with a broken sword. Seize it. The mountains teem with beasts in the shape of men. Yoke their strength. Prosperity awaits you in the East, but a mountain stands in your way. Break it down. The eagle and the lion will challenge you. Crush them. Do this and nothing will be beyond your grasp. Now go."
Striking the ground with his staff, the old man was engulfed by a billowing cloud of smoke. A breeze swept the cloud away and he was gone. Randwulf was startled the supernatural disappearance, but it did not unnerve him as much as it would a common man. After all, it was not as if the ways of magic were unknown to him. Still, to witness such craft in this day and age...
The old man's cryptic words intrigued him. The lure of power was indeed great. Experience taught him that strength was everything and he wanted more. Could he really achieve things as grand as what the old man said?
The only way to find out would be to try it. He had been looking for a direction in life and now he found it. His line was not known as the Conqueror for nothing. It was time to remind the world why that was.

* * *

After three more days on the road, Randwulf was back at his home in Kappa. He had had plenty of time to think on the old man's words and what they meant for him. He knew exactly what he had to do to take his first step.
As he walked up to the door, he caught himself staring at the porch. Seven years had passed, but he could still see the blood as if it had just happened. He pushed back the unpleasant image before opening the door and walking in.
His family was all seated around the hearth. His mother looked at him in exasperation. The years had been hard on her, but she was weak. It was only natural that she would surrender so easily to grief and despair.
"You've been out again..." she sighed. She had lost the energy to scold him long ago.
His father said nothing. It suited Randwulf just fine. He had nothing to say either. His father was the one person who was supposed to possess strength, but he had proven his weakness when he failed to save Wolfmar. Randwulf would never forgive him for his failure and hated him for his weakness. The air was thick with the resentment between father and son.
In spite of the uncomfortable atmosphere around the family, his sister tried to look happy and rose to greet him.
"Welcome back, Randwulf."
Another weak person. On several occasions she had tried to smooth over the tensions in the family, but she never succeeded. She had slept through the whole incident seven years ago. She never saw what had happened to Wolfmar. What did she know? How could she possibly understand how he felt?
Looking at his family confirmed his decision. He was not like them. He was strong and would become even stronger. It was time to prove it. When he came back into the main room, he was wearing the ancestral gear of the Conqueror. His father rose with a start the moment he saw.
"I didn't say you could wear that," he said in his typically edgy tone. "Take it off... now."
His attempt to intimidate Randwulf was a vain effort. How could someone as weak as his father expect to command someone with strength?
"Your time is over, old man," Randwulf replied coldly. The Gems embedded in the gear flashed in silent agreement. Randwulf grinned. "See? They have accepted me. The power is mine now."
"You're not too old for a beating," his father growled. "Take it off or else."
His father took a few slow steps toward him. A child may have been cowed by the threat of force, but Randwulf was no longer a child. With a forceful shove, he knocked his father onto his back.
"Back away," he said coolly. "I've killed many men and I'll kill you too if you stand in my way."
His mother knelt by her husband's side and tried to help him back up. She looked back at her son with a mix of confusion and anger.
"What's possessed you!? Why are you doing this!?"
Her voice was unsteady, near the point of hysteria. In another time, it would have concerned him, but the softer feelings in his heart had long since died out. He had no sympathy, but he did have an answer.
"Because he's weak," Randwulf replied bluntly. "You're all weak! If you weren't so weak, Wolfmar would still be alive!"
"Is that what this about?" his mother asked in wounded shock. "Do you think you can honor your brother's memory by tearing this family apart?"
Randwulf closed his eyes. He could no longer stand to look at them.
"No, Wolfmar was just the beginning. It goes far beyond that. It's my destiny to put fear back into the name of the Conqueror and I intend to fulfill that destiny. You all are nothing but obstacles, but I've outgrown you."
Randwulf walked out the door. His mother was still pleading with him, but it was just noise. Fate bends to the will of the strong and he finally had the power to control his destiny.