Originally published at All or Nothing Requiem: Rytlock.
Written by Alex Kain on January 29, 2019.
The words hit me like three shots to the chest—those spiked Iron Legion rounds that shatter apart and lodge in your sternum.
We stared. Not at the body—at the commander. Where was the plan? The next great idea?
There was always another plan.
This one was supposed to be a triumph, our killing blow. Burn me, even prophecy was on our side! And then it was over.
Just like the last time, I couldn't stop it.
I thought she’d be furious.
She wasn’t. The commander joined her by the twisted corpse that Kralkatorrik left behind: Aurene, impaled. Forever frozen in her death throes.
I saw tears, but no rage. Where was their rage?
Where was the plan? How were we going to win?
How could they mourn a dragon?
“You have to trust me, Rytlock.”
How many times had I heard that from the commander?
It was never not a stupid plan. Raising one dragon from birth to kill another and fulfill some sort of foretold destiny?
Charr don’t even raise their own cubs. How is anyone supposed to raise a dragon?
It was always a stupid plan, but I went along with it. Not because of trust.
No, this was about loyalty.
Charr are loyal to their warband: their brothers and sisters in arms.
The bonds forged in battle are stronger than any bloodline. But in the fahrar, we’re also taught that losing warband mates will happen. For the greater good. Victory above all. Honor to the warband, glory to the High Legions. “Acceptable losses,” Ruinbringer calls them.
Destiny’s Edge. Dragon’s Watch. For over a decade, they’ve been my warbands—my family. They’ve been loyal to me. I tried to be loyal to them. They put their faith in me to achieve victory above all. Even with acceptable losses, I didn’t do enough.
So: We hunt him down, and we kill him. Simple, right?
Yeah, no. Not really.
Aurene was the only way to save Tyria.
She was supposed to kill the Crystal Dragon, absorb his magic, and—I don’t know. It’s not like we had better options. Every other plan ends with the annihilation of all existence.
The boom wouldn’t be pretty.
All of my friends, my family—they’re going to die in this doomed world because I’m a failure.
Always have been.
“Runtlock! Runtlock! Runtlock!”
That damned chorus of voices all around me again. Open palms shoving me to the ground. Clawed feet kicking me while I’m down. And somewhere behind it all is my voice—small, alone—screaming for them to stop. They don’t. Not until I wake up.
I knew I’d get back at them someday. Me and my friends, we’d make them all stop—we’d hurt them, like they’d hurt us. I became the leader of my warband. Training every day. Slaughtering countless enemies. A legend among the charr. They’d knock me down, but I’d always stand back up.
I never dream about that. Why can’t I ever dream about that?
I was the runt of the litter. I’d always be the runt of the litter, no matter how many enemies I tore apart, no matter how many Elder Dragons I killed. Even if I was Khan-Ur, I’d always be Runtlock.
I couldn’t change that. All I could do was stand back up after they pushed me down. But even when I silenced those voices for good, I never got them out of my head. Or my nightmares.
Not until I found Sohothin.
Always thought it was more of an Ash Legion job: infiltrate the Flame Legion and sabotage Gaheron Baelfire’s operation from the inside. Normally that’d mean sending an envoy to the Black Citadel to set up a joint operation, but Imperator Ruinbringer didn’t trust Ash Legion. Still doesn’t.
Doesn’t trust anyone, really.
Cre was perfect for the job, Ruinbringer said. What he meant was, she was female. Baelfire wouldn’t see it coming. Wouldn’t suspect her of being a Blood Legion warrior in disguise.
He was right—burn him, Ruinbringer usually is. Getting into the garrison was easy. Maybe the job itself would’ve been, too, if I didn’t spend most of my time just trying to avoid killing everyone I met. That was hard.
Crecia was better. Poisoned food, stole plans, swapped orders—Flame Legion didn’t suspect a thing. Then we got some news. Something big going through the ranks.
The Flame Legion had found something and was bringing it to our garrison. Something incredible.
They’d found Sohothin.
I tried to learn more, but sneaking around? Gathering intelligence? Not exactly my strong suit. Here’s what the two of us figured out: the Flame Legion sent some troops to the Ring of Fire to look for an ancient relic that belonged to a human prince—Rurik. Was supposed to have been a gift from their god of war, Balthazar.
When we heard that the blade was leaving our garrison for Fireheart Rise, to be delivered to Imperator Baelfire himself…
Well, I couldn’t let that happen.
Of course, I couldn’t just steal it. I had to tell my warband mate what I was planning. Problem was, Cre was doing too good a job to leave it all behind.
When I told her what I was going to do, she told me I’d get myself killed. Probably put her at risk, too. If I got caught, it wouldn’t take them long to figure out which imperator we really answered to.
But I was young. I couldn’t let Baelfire get his claws on Sohothin, and my head was full of—
I was young. We were young.
I did what I thought I had to. I killed the guards protecting Sohothin and claimed it for myself. Begged Crecia to come with me. Maybe she even considered it. I’ll never know, because she didn’t—she stabbed me in the leg with a paring knife to slow me down and sounded the alarm. Later she told Ruinbringer she was trying to make it “look good.”
Can’t say I appreciated it at the time, even if it worked. She kept up the act for years after I got away.
I think about her sometimes—her fine lines and sharp edges. The scar on my leg reminds me of what I did, still makes me wonder if Cre was one of those “acceptable losses” our teachers in the fahrar liked to talk about so much.
But in the end, I had Sohothin.
That was what mattered.
Imperator Ruinbringer wasn’t happy to see I’d blown my cover, but stealing Baelfire’s secret weapon? That improved his mood.
Now that I was back with my Stone warband, Ruinbringer decided to put us on the front lines of the next major attack—with me and Sohothin at the fore.
He wanted the Flame Legion to see their precious artifact in the claws of the enemy.
He wanted the Flame Legion to see their own cut down by its magic.
He wanted the Flame Legion to fear the fire.
And they did. Battle after battle, Sohothin cleaved through enemy lines. Their arrows, their blades, their magic—it all knocked me down, but I always got back up.
My legend grew. My power grew. My warband grew…distant.
But that didn’t matter to me. I had Sohothin, and I was unstoppable.
I won battle after battle, setting those Flame Legion zealots ablaze like dried kindling. Rytlock Brimstone was the most feared charr on the battlefield.
My superiors tried to order me around, tried to push me down. But with Sohothin? Nobody would ever push me around again.
My superiors didn’t like that very much.
“I should have you executed, you know that?”
I remember the way Ruinbringer’s eyes shone and his teeth flashed in that dimly lit chamber at the Blood Citadel. He claimed that I didn’t follow orders, that I put my fellow charr at risk—that I thought I was better than he was.
I told him I had opinions about my orders.
“On the battlefield?” he sneered. “That’s a bad place to have opinions.”
The next words out of my mouth were a mistake. “Only if we lose,” I said. “I’ve yet to fight a losing battle.”
Ruinbringer rose from his throne. I tried to stand taller, dignified.
“Well, you’re in one right now.”
I gritted my teeth. I knew what was coming next. Or at least, I thought I did.
“You will not become a gladium,” Ruinbringer said. “You’re being promoted.”
I was confused, but told him I was honored. That was a mistake, too.
Ruinbringer showed me a heavy parchment, folded, sealed with wax. “You’ll be going on a little tour of the legions,” he continued. “Maybe your—motivational presence will deliver them the same victories you’ve brought us.”
Just execute me. The other legions? They don’t fight like Blood. Iron cowers behind their machines. Ash skulks around in the shadows. But there was no reasoning with him. Ruinbringer enjoyed the thought of me being miserable more than he enjoyed winning.
All my victories, all the blood I’d spilled in my legion’s name—in that moment, it meant nothing.
I never thought I’d feel that impotent again.
What was left of him.
All the power of Sohothin—and Snaff was still torn apart right before my eyes.
But I didn't learn. I never learned. I'd have to make more mistakes. More people had to die.
I'd have to meet the god of war and fire before that lesson got through my thick skull.
“Is that your sword?”
The stranger’s voice carried far in the Mists. It was deep, powerful—maybe in life he’d been some great lord, crossed someone he shouldn’t have, wound up chained in these wastelands. Didn’t matter to me.
My eyes were on the blade buried deep in the stone, its flame long extinguished. My goal, finally in sight after—how long had it been? Time is strange in the Mists.
“I only ask,” the stranger said, “because it looks like Sohothin’s lost its spark.”
I stopped. Or maybe just my heart did.
“How do you know its name?”
The stranger smiled. People are strange in the Mists, too.
“Who doesn’t know of Sohothin?” he asked. “Legendary blade of fire and war, taken up by a charr.”
Word travels around, I guess. He offered to reignite it.
I should’ve known. That was the moment I should’ve known. Idiot.
But it was also the moment I realized I could get Sohothin back. I’d wandered the Mists for what felt like a lifetime, ancient battles repeating for eternity—and now there was a chance to take back the light. My light.
I didn’t ask who he was or why he was chained up. I just wanted my life back.
“You can reignite it?”
The stranger raised his arm, and the flame within Sohothin sparked, piercing through the gloom of the Mists.
I should’ve noticed how easily his muscles ignored the weight of his chains. I should’ve noticed the hungry flicker of flame in his eyes.
But how much did I really see? How much do I just wish I’d seen?
Sparks and cinders filled the air as I wrenched the blade from the stone. Its heat felt familiar. Now I was smiling, too. With Sohothin, everything always seemed just a little easier.
“That blade is truly a marvel,” the stranger said. “I see how you look at it. You appreciate how special it is.”
I told him it was good at its job, but I won’t lie. Part of me was vindicated. The stranger had no answer except to raise both his arms and stretch out his chains.
And then I freed him.
It was my fault. Everything that came after—all because I wanted that damn sword back.
When the stranger—when Balthazar—saw how I looked at it, could he see what I thought of myself without it?
All because I wanted that sword back.
It was my fault.
And I’m just as powerless now as I was then. Couldn’t keep Logan from leaving. Couldn’t save Snaff. Couldn’t save Destiny’s Edge, or Vlast…or Aurene.
Take away Sohothin, and what am I? Who is Rytlock Brimstone without the legendary fire sword? Would I still be tribune? Would I still be known throughout the High Legions?
If I died and someone else took up the sword, could they do better?
I looked around the ruins of Thunderhead Keep. At the commander. Caithe. Taimi. Braham.
My allies. My friends. My family.
But there was more. A thought, cowering deep in the back of my head.
The cubs I never see.
I sent them off to the fahrar years ago. That’s what we do.
Wasn’t supposed to be a part of their lives, but that always felt…wrong. My parents left me to struggle. The only way a runt survives in the fahrar is to fight their own battles, tooth and claw.
Still. I check in on them once in a while. Just to see how they’re doing. Make sure they’re staying out of trouble—and make sure nobody’s giving them any.
I’m never going to see them again. They’ll look up at the sky as the Mists disappear and everything ends. Will their warband be there to help them? Some are too young—haven’t even left the fahrar yet. They’ll die never knowing the camaraderie of a warband.
Of a family.
And my eldest. My first. Would he even bother to think of me as the world comes apart?
That’s when the tears came. Finally.
I realized why Caithe was crying. Why the commander was crying. To them, Aurene wasn’t just a dragon.
She was their daughter.
Eleven years ago, I stood in the Crystal Desert and saw how powerless I really was. Even with Sohothin, everything fell apart. Kralkatorrik escaped. My friends either died or abandoned me.
My superiors call it acceptable losses.
My whole life, I was told that my warband was my family and the High Legions were absolute. Everything I did, every victory I won—it was for them. Everything else I had to sacrifice was an acceptable loss.
But they’re not acceptable. Not when I keep losing people I care about. My comrades. My friends.
I’d never let it happen. Burn the High Legions. Burn them all to the ground.
I barely know my cubs, but if Kralkatorrik threatened one of them—I’d sacrifice my damned sword in a heartbeat.
I’d throw myself in front of them.
I’d die for them.
Yeah, I guess I get it now.
“Rytlock?” Logan. His voice shakes me back to the present. “Saw you pacing around.”
I had been. All over Thunderhead Keep. Now I’m crouched on a piece of stonework, away from the others, hiding in the shadows. Thought I’d be difficult to spot. Guess I was wrong.
“Right.” I see Logan hefting something out of the corner of my eye. “You left this by Aurene’s…near Aurene.”
It’s Sohothin. I can’t remember leaving it anywhere, so I just turn to look at it—at Logan, trying to think of something to say.
Nothing comes to mind until he lays the blade against the wall and turns to leave.
Logan stops. “Yes?”
He’s waiting. Patient—I’ll give him that. I don’t know how long he stands there, like some sort of siege. A friendly one. I glance at the sword.
“Didn’t need it.”
Another silence. Longer. “Come on,” he says, “let’s check on the others. They need us.”
After everything, how can I argue with that?
I start to leave, but Logan’s hand is on my shoulder. “Rytlock. Your sword.”
It’s more than a sword, I know that much. I decided long ago that Sohothin was more important than Cre, who I’d left behind. I’d decided it was more important to have Sohothin than a family by my side.
But I could kill every damn thing in the whole world. I could rule all four legions as the next Khan-Ur, and I’d never be happy. It’d never be worth it.
I couldn’t fix the world. I couldn’t even fix me.
So I keep walking. “Don’t need it,” I say again. “It’s just a sword. It’ll be here when I get back.”
Logan looks suspicious. “You sure?”
Even with Sohothin, I’ll never be as strong as I need to be.
But I’m not powerless, either. Not while I have them. My warband—my family.
Not while I can still fight for them.
“Yeah. It’ll be all right.”
- On the release page, the three All or Nothing: Requiem short stories have been formatted using the open-source program Twine.
- The story is illustrated by ArenaNet's creative partner Jerome Jacinto.