Chapter 5

AT 1083 (AZ 1455) - Autumn
Outside the Ruins of Castle Euros, The Darklands

The second siege of Karas did not proceed as the first. Caligo would like to claim it was only because he making sport of young Ionathas, son of Salemon. However, the boy was both resourceful and capable. He did not wage war as other men did. He fought with the guile of a bandit tempered with the discipline of a knight. The mindless ranks of the dead were no match.
Caligo longed for the days when he commanded his own armies, with his elite Companions at the tip of the spear. They were without peer. However, he would not have them brought back into this world by the Monarch Lich's magic. They earned their rest and Caligo would not see that rest disturbed for anything.
As Caligo walked through the ruins of the old capital, he recalled the daring raid to free the Companions from their imprisonment and the sack of the city that followed. Part of the archway was all that remained of the main gate to the palace. Even after a year of languishing in prison, his Companions made short work of the palace guards. Pollux's hirelings never stood a chance.
Looking back, his campaign of revenge on the land that betrayed him felt empty. His hate and his anger only carried him so far, and when the fires died out, there was nothing left. It was cruel of him to leave his Companions with an empty and devastated land as the reward for their service, but so it was.
As he stepped into courtyard, a great cry rose up.
It was as if he had stepped into the past, a thousand years ago. His Companions were assembled in full array. His memory of them had decayed over the centuries but now it was as if they had never parted.
"What... What is this?" he asked numbly.
Iason the Horseman, one of his captains, hurried up to him eagerly.
"Strategos!" he exclaimed. "His Majesty the Monarch Lich has returned us to you. The Companions march together once more!"
The other four captains approached. Diomedes the Hammer-wielder, Atalanta the Fleet-footed, Chyrsanthe the White, Eurimenes the Black... The only people he ever called friend. Caligo thought that sorrow had long since died within him, but he remembered it in that moment.
He also remembered how they pleaded with him to allow them to share in his curse, for him to turn them as he was turned by the Miastor Prince. He refused. They would live and die as humans and so he watched them die one after the other until he was left alone.
"If you had but granted our wish, Strategos, we would never have left your side," Eurimenes said. "You could have been king of the whole world with your immortal, invincible army, but now you must settle for being the servant of the king of the world."
Diomedes laughed heartily and slapped Caligo on the back. When Caligo was still mortal, Diomedes' heavy hand seemed to strike with all the force of his warhammer. Even now, he could still feel it through his armor.
"The Strategos is the king of the battlefield," he said. "That's all he needs. It's all we need."
With her hands folded over her heart, Chrysanthe said in her soft voice, "Remember that we have His Majesty to thank for returning us to the Strategos' side."
Though his heart was naught but stone and ice, Caligo thought it might break at the sight of them. But it was not just that. Though they looked just as they did in the prime of their lives, they smelled of death and the grave. It was a constant reminder that they did not belong in this world.
"This... This was not what I wished for you..." Caligo said.
"You were always too tender-hearted, Strategos," Eurimenes replied. "It has held you back from realizing your destiny. It has held us back. We could have been so much more than this, but all the same, praise to His Majesty for granting this boon."
Every reverential word his Companions spoke of the Monarch Lich grated on Caligo's nerves. It was yet another reminder that they were not the people he knew. They looked like them and even the same spirit might dwell in their constructed bodies, but he could see the strings and trace them back to the Black Keep.
"The stench of his magic is upon you," Caligo said through gritted teeth. "He would bring you back into this world as his puppets. Unforgivable..."
He drew his sword.
"Strategos, what--?"
In a swift motion, he clove Iason in two. Without a spirit to animate it, the body quickly crumbled to dust.
Caligo looked out to his remaining Companions and said, "Forgive me, my friends. Until your spirits can rest again, I will not surrender them to him."
Eurimenes' eyes washed over black. He pointed at Caligo and cried out in a shrill voice, "Treason! The Strategos would betray the King!"
Like Eurimenes, the eyes of all the Companions turned black and they swarmed on Caligo. Their resurrected bodies had all the skills they once possessed in life, but for all that skill, they were no match for Caligo at the peak of his power. Like a howling wind, he cut them down one after another. To their credit, they struck him with many blows. Sword and spear, hammer and arrow, all manner of spells. Each of them were worth ten men, nay, twenty, but they could not overcome their Strategos.
The last of the Companions was returned to dust after driving his spear into Caligo's gut. His armor was almost completely destroyed. When he pulled the spear out of his stomach, the wound healed more slowly than usual. Leave it to his Companions to tax even his powers.
Caligo stared at Soul Drinker and out on the grave soil and bits of bone scattered around him. He then recalled that Ubu was there, witnessing the entire display. His life was apparently precious enough to him that he did not try to interfere, not that it would have accomplished anything but add another soul to multitude surging within his blade.
As much as his face was capable of expression, Ubu glowered at him and said, "Do not think this will go unpunished, Sir Caligo."
Caligo cared nothing about punishment.
"Go," he growled. "Run back to your master, you dog. Tell him all you have seen and heard."
Ubu melted into the shadows and was gone. A gust of wind rose up from the East and blew away the dust and ash that were all that remained of his Companions. Perhaps now they would be out of the Monarch Lich's grasp.
He looked down at Soul Drinker and said, "Bear it for a while longer, my friends. You will find your release soon."