"; } } ?> "; } } ?>

The Reward
Exhausted, Guilhem tossed down his spear and sat heavily on a stone in the swamp. The small party of surviving savages took notice of his mood and warily drifted away from their aggravated leader. Weeks ago the Master had ordered him to increase the tribe’s attacks into the human cities, but now they had been forced to settle here, defeated. He had known going into the fight that the odds of holding even one of the cities were slim, and he had tried to express that to the Master. But once an order was given, it was expected to be followed to the letter. Guilhem had seen the penalty for disobedience and had no desire to again, especially from the victim’s point of view. He wondered again what the penalty for failure would be and shuddered. 

When the Master had first given him this assignment he had almost been insulted, although he had dared not show it at the time. Lead an unimportant tribe of primitives into the orc lands and drive them away. Live as one of them, gain their trust. To his surprise, after his time with the tribe, he’d become comfortable. He had learned their customs and traditions, even made friends. Never before in his life had he felt guilt, but now it consumed him. Guilt for being the instrument that led the savages away from their home and into the slaughter. 

Absentmindedly he rubbed a few flakes of his kin paint off of his itching chin. He would soon need to reapply his tribal markings. The itch manifested itself on his arms and then spread down to his legs and soon encompassed his whole body. Within seconds his skin was numb and he could not move or speak. Light faded from his eyes and his mind went blank as the sensation of movement filled him. Reality blurred and he lost all concept of time. Then slowly, he could feel his thoughts return and feeling prickled itself back into his flesh. He was no longer in the swamps. He lay on cold stone. Around him he could hear a slight clicking sound and lights danced on the other side of his closed eyelids. 

“Guilhem, I trust I did not interrupt anything vital?” said the Master. 

“You were to report in weeks ago! Explain yourself!” barked the Master’s lackey. 

Fighting the initial shock of his journey, Guilhem pulled himself upright and into a standing position, shading his blurry eyes from the bright lights in the room. Despite his dislike for the Master’s servant, he carefully kept his face free of any disdain. If he was going to report a failure, he wanted to keep every chance of living through it. 

Guilhem responded steadily, “The humans took the cities back from us in days. They were too powerful; the tribe had no chance of success. We were forced to retreat to the swamps. I beg forgiveness for my failure, Master; my only wish is to serve you.” He knew the last words were a lie even as he spoke them. 

The master paused for a moment and then spoke. “Guilhem, you have performed well. I do not consider your distraction a failure.” 

“Distraction?!” Guilhem cried, trying desperately not to let his anger show. Hundreds of the clan, perhaps thousands were slaughtered… all for a distraction. “A distraction, M’lord… I do not understand… You sent orders that I was to take the tribes into the cities and hold them. We were defeated.” 

“Indeed,” said the Master. “Your primitives occupied the Britannians quite well. Our efforts here were not discovered, thanks to that diversion.” 

“However, our assets are far from secure.” A deep voice took Guilhem by surprise. In his nervousness he had not noticed a figure standing in the shadows, concealed by a dark cloak. 

“We still have the issue of the renegades.” The stranger spoke in low tones, but with an air of power behind his words. “They have been making attempts almost daily to expose us. If the humans found the city now, they could shut down production of our forces. The savages did distract the Britannians, but it is still too soon for us to be discovered. We need more time.” 

Guilhem stood tensely. He had never heard anyone speak that way in front of the master, as if they were an equal! He had seen men die for far less a transgression. To his surprise, the Master responded to the stranger, “What do you suggest?” 

“That we launch the golems now. The Britannians are still unfocused after the chaos caused by the orcs and savages. The renegades remain a nuisance. Enough golems have been produced to afford us the ability to have the Controllers both search for the renegades and divert attention away from our work. That should give us enough time to establish our security structures.” 

There was a long silence as the whirring sound increased and then settled. “Phoseph, notify the Controllers of our new plans. They are to begin as soon as possible.” He paused while the lackey made some notes on a scroll and then left the room. “Guilhem, step forward.” 

Guilhem knew as he stepped forward he could not hide the slight shaking of his legs or the look of anxiety on his face. His mind raced with anger and confusion. He tried not to look in the direction of the dark stranger who was moving silently across the room. He stopped behind Guilhem, casting a slight shadow over him. 

“Guilhem, don’t presume to be able to hide anything from me. Although you performed your task well, your growing fondness for the primitives is clear.” The Master spoke in his usual calm tones. 

“I… I have come to know them, M’lord. My purpose remains to serve….” 

“Your purpose is mine to decide, as is your reward. You still wear the marks of the primitives. You wish to live as one of them.” A dark blue light enshrouded Guilhem and he rose a few inches off of the cold floor below him. He tried to scream but his face froze in astonished horror. “And you shall die as one.” 

Guilhem felt the warmth of his own blood running down his body as he was impaled from behind by the dark cloaked stranger. Through the pain of his spine breaking in two he imagined the home of the savages and let himself have a quick, bloody smile before slumping to the floor. 

“I have matters to attend to elsewhere. We are not yet secure,” said the dark figure, not giving a thought to the blood on his cloak. 

“For the moment,” replied the Master. “But soon we shall be. The Britannians will not be able to withstand our forces. The renegades shall soon be found. The land will be ours.” 

Silently the figure moved out of the room, leaving a small trail of crimson droplets behind him. 

Published: September 2001
Please Note: Some dates are estimates as exact dates were unavailable.
Ultima Online ESRB Rating
© 2017 Electronic Arts Inc. All rights reserved.
Legal Information      Privacy Policy      Terms of Service
/** //