A Rebel's Heart
A/N: If you haven't read Miranda Crystal-Bearer's "Planet Insanity: The Destroying", this piece won't make much sense at first. The only way I'm allowed to use the characters in her story is because 1) she allowed me, and 2) I allowed her to use my character for HER story! ^^
Efad glanced her tired army once-over and gave a fatigued sigh. "Okay fellas, we've got a long day tomorrow... get a good night's sleep." She, too, was exhausted from the attack they had made on a village that day, but she still had much to do before she could rest. It was part of the duty of being the Rebel leader; though after four years, she had become accustomed to staying awake late hours in her study, especially when plans of attack needed perfecting. It took a great deal of planning to outwit Queen Miranda's forces... and unfortunately, the queen saw her tactics as crude and unworthy of royal attention.
Her other four leaders, Stephan, Tom, Bum, and Zam, herded the army of thirty or forty into the sleeping rooms. Stephan, seventeen and elder than she by a year, glanced back at her as he left. "Aren't you coming?" He asked.
"I still have plans to finish," she replied with a weak smile, taking down her chestnut hair from its usual ponytail. "I'll be in bed before the midnight hour, don't worry." It was comforting to see how he tried to look after her, as if he were her brother.
The three younger, Tom, Bum, and Zam, approached her as soon as everyone had gone. "Efad, we need more supplies," Zam began slowly, as if it were a difficult question to ask. "Tom used the last of his potions in the attack on the village, and Bum did SOMETHING with my arrows--"
"Hey, it wasn't ME!" Bum protested.
Tom rolled his eyes. "That's what you said last time, when it WAS your fault."
"Yeah, but this time, it isn't!"
Zam sighed and gave Efad a pleading glance, adjusting his spectacles. "...in short, we need to find a way into town before tomorrow morning. Either we could buy the supplies and risk being recognized, or steal them and risk being caught."
The sixteen-year-old grimaced. "Wonderful. Well, if you can find a way to get the things you need tonight without any trouble, then you three may go into town. But be careful -- I can't have my two swordsmen and my archer missing from battle tomorrow." She gave them a grin to reassure the humor in her tone.
"Alright. We'll be back before you know it!" Bum called as he darted towards the door. "Guys, I know where to get the potions--"
"I hope it's better than the last guy you took us to," Tom muttered, following his cousin. "His ...whatever-they-weres had me sick in bed for a week!"
"Hey, at least it wasn't the contact you suggested for arrows," Zam interjected. "You know, the arrows that broke as soon as I touched them?"
"How was I to know they were flimsy? I don't use a bow!"
"You obviously don't use your head, either!"
Efad chuckled at their banter as they made their way out the door. Though the five were the leaders of the Rebel army, she was the head of them all, Stephan was second to her, and Tom, Bum, and Zam were just below him. But everyone looked to her for advice and guidance, especially the men of her army. No one seemed to mind that she was the only female, nor that a young woman was the head of all the army; they did, however, seek to impress her at times, especially in battle.
She sighed again and moved across the room to her study, carefully looking back to see if anyone was still there. Once inside, she glanced around once more to make sure no one had found their way in, and closed the door quietly. She looked to her desk and found the papers she had used in that morning's briefing amongst the five leaders, which were sitting next to a rose in a vase, both given to her by Stephan. "I hope these look as good as they did this morning," she muttered to herself as she examined them. After a minute, however, she scowled, balled the papers with her hands, and angrily threw them across the room.
"Who am I kidding?" Efad moaned. "Those plans are horrible! The queen knows every trick and plan I throw at her, even before I think of them! How am I supposed to command an army without a clue of what I'm doing?" With another moan, she slid to a sitting position against the wall and pulled her knees closer to her chest. It was times like these she wished her father and mother were there... and such times made her wrath towards the royal family burn stronger. If King Dirian, the past king of Insanity and Miranda's father, hadn't killed her parents, Efad would still have someone to turn to, someone to cry with, someone to--
The call at her door made Efad jump, but she regained her composure and called back, "yes, Stephan?"
"Where are the Stooges? They were here earlier, but now they're gone, and Tom and Bum had promised to keep watch tonight." She had to chuckle once again at the nickname the elder boy had given the three fifteen-year-olds; though she heard it daily, it still sounded humorous when he called for them by "The Three Stooges".
"I sent them out for supplies."
There was a pause, but after a moment Stephan asked, "Efad, is everything alright in there? You sound a little meloncholy."
Efad made a face and mentally cursed herself. "Yes, everything's fine. I'm almost finished with the plans for tomorrow, and then I'll be going to bed." It was times like these that, not only was she abnormally pensive, but these emotions caused her to lie to her fellow leaders as well; something for which she despised herself.
"...only if you're sure." Footsteps sounded, leading in the opposite direction, and then there was silence. Efad sighed and rested her face on her knees, whimpering curses at herself and trying to ignore the pain behind the bridge of her nose, which often begged her to start crying. It was a few minutes before she rose from the floor, straightened her shirt, and brushed her hand across the Rebel crest around her neck sadly. The ruby medallion glinted in the dim light from a fire in the fireplace, making her sigh once more. 'I wish I knew what to do,' she groaned inwardly. 'All these battles fought, all these lives lost... all because of a grudge I have against a dead guy and his brat daughter.'
"To bed we go, then," she muttered to herself, opening the door. She walked up a flight of stairs and felt her way through the dark hallway, feeling for a door on her right. When she found it, she opened it and staggered into the dimly-lit room. Another fireplace had been lit to give warmth: something very hard to find during the nights on Insanity. She managed not to trip over Tom's, Bum's, or Zam's bedrolls, but almost toppled over Stephan inside his. He didn't seem to notice, to her relief, as she managed to find her way to her own bedroll. Climbing inside, she secretly wondered if any of her men had the same doubts about tomorrow's attack as she...
Death. It was all around her... her army, her friends, all laying dead at the feet of Queen Miranda. The blonde-headed teen crossed her legs from where she sat on her throne, seemingly unaware of the corpses that covered the ground in layers.
"Why are you bent on dethroning me?" She asked tiredly, as if she were finally growing weary of the opposition.
Efad gripped her sword tighter and growled low in her throat. "Your father killed my parents for no reason -- someone must pay for their murder with blood!"
Miranda gave her a diabolical smile, which almost seemed out of place on her delicate face. "But what will you do about him?"
"What? Who are you talking about?" The Rebel leader demanded angrily.
The queen gestured to her right, where her captain of the guards, Mantia, was holding someone by the shoulder. Their head was covered with a sack, and their hands were bound behind them; yet, even without being able to see a face, something seemed so... familiar about the prisoner. "I said, what will you do about him? Mantia..."
The female captain nodded sharply and removed the cloth. Efad gasped in horror as she saw that the prisoner was Stephan, and covered her open mouth with one hand, not bothering to wipe the tears trickling from her eyes.
"Stephan, what happened?" She asked in a whimper. He only stared straight ahead as if in a trance, looking neither right nor left, unable to answer his leader and friend. "You witch! What've you done to him?" She howled, turning fiercely to Miranda.
"Oh, don't worry. Once he finishes murdering you, we'll bring him back -- he won't remember a thing." She gave a flick of her wrist and Stephan broke from his bindings, tearing at Efad with every ounce of his strength. She dodged him, begging for respite from the spell, while Miranda's cruel laugh echoed through the hall...
Efad screamed and sat bolt upright on her bedroll, her hair clinging to her sweaty face. Her head hit something hard as she jolted awake, however, and she sank back onto her backside with a hand to her head; when the stars had faded from her sight, she saw a dazed Stephan beside her, cradling his head in pain as well. "What're you doing?" She asked in a moan, though she was secretly glad that she had been dreaming.
He grunted and shook his head slowly to clear his vision. "Man, that hurts... I was trying to wake you, since you were making strange noises in your sleep, and you woke up a bit faster than I thought you would..."
"That explains the headache." Glancing around, she noticed three bedrolls that had not been used since she last saw them. "...are they still not back?"
Stephan laughed. "No, they're back, but they reeked so badly that I sent them to the showers. I have no idea what they got into, and I have a feeling that I don't want to know."
Efad tried to smile. "Some of us will appreciate that." The dream she'd had was still haunting her... the memory of the empty look in her friend's eyes caused her to shudder.
The boy raised an eyebrow at her. "...are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Just... a strange dream, that's all." She scratched the back of her neck nervously. "Why aren't you asleep? We still have that long day tomorrow." She couldn't bring herself to speak of tomorrow's attack in plain words, though she was almost unsure of the reason why.
He shrugged. "The Three Stooges woke me when they came in, and it wasn't long after that before you started crying out in your sleep."
"Get back to bed, then, and let those three take care of themselves." She shifted positions to stare at the fire, which had almost died away into glowing embers.
"You need to sleep, too ...or is something the matter?"
"No, nothing's wrong. I'm just shaken after that dream, and after I think it over for a few moments, I'm going back to sleep myself."
Stephan chuckled to himself. "You answered a bit hastily -- it makes you seem suspicious."
"Nothing's wrong, Stephan," she muttered.
He sighed, frustrated. "...Efad, I'm only worried because you've been acting ...well... different lately. You seem more withdrawn than usual, and it's starting to worry me."
Efad glared at him, but mentally cursed herself again as she lied to him. "It happens to be the wrong time of the month for me," she snapped, though knew that it had long passed two weeks prior. "And I'd appreciate no further questions concerning my personal life!"
"I didn't know it lasted for two months," he said loftily, staring into the fire.
She stared in disbelief. "Has it been that long?" She asked meekly, growing meloncholy. Of course, hiding in her study was the perfect excuse to run away and pour her worries into tears... but had it been two months since this period of depression had come over her?
"Don't think you can be invisible that easily. After all, the walls have ears..." He smiled softly, as if he pitied the girl. "You shouldn't be ashamed of tears; they plague everyone at one point or another."
"Yet some more than others." Efad sighed and shifted uncomfortably. "Lord, what fools these mortals be..."
He shrugged. "I've heard you say that before, but never about yourself."
"What makes you think I was talking about myself?" She asked hotly.
"Well, for one, you're irritable..."
"I'm NOT angry."
"Two, you're defensive..."
"You're imagining things!"
"Three, in denial..."
"ENOUGH!" She shouted. Stephan stopped mid-sentence, staring at her in surprise from her outburst. "Okay, maybe I'm acting differently; maybe I have worries about tomorrow's attack; maybe I'm tired of leading these men, who put their lives in my hands, into battles that could result in their deaths!" She stopped as her voice choked in her throat, secretly hoping that Stephan hadn't noticed, but he had.
"Tired of leading?" His expression softened. "What do you mean?"
Efad tried to swallow her tears, but they kept coming back to her. "These men give their lives to me, because they believe I have something worth fighting for. But you know what? I DON'T! All I have is a worthless grudge against a dead man for killing my parents! Miranda didn't even DO it, for heaven's sake, and I'm still acting like she has!"
Stephan remained silent and watched as she began to sob into the sleeve of her tunic's undershirt. "Then why are we here?" He finally asked.
"I don't know!" She exclaimed helplessly. "But now that everyone's watching to see my next move, what am I supposed to do? Just tell them to go home, because this anger against Miranda that I thought I had is nothing but foolery? Sure, she's killed a great number of our troops, but--"
"Then we fight for them, if not to avenge the souls of your parents." His voice was firm now, as if trying to raise her confidence. "Do you know why we all came together? We believed in the spirit of hope you gave us; the same spirit that told us you would rise against the tyrrany of King Dirian! Someone has to pay for his crimes, and it might as well be his daughter, only because there is no one left."
She sniffed and tried to manage a sad smile. "I'll bet you twenty rupen that she doesn't know anything about his horrific reign... being sheltered in the castle, I'm sure she only saw what he wanted her to see." A curt laugh escaped her. "She probably doesn't understand why we're out to dethrone her."
"I'm tempted to agree with you."
She sighed. "Even so, it's harder than hell to keep up this fight," she muttered.
Stephan nodded sagely, then pulled her into a comforting hug. "I know," he coaxed. "But we still believe in you, Efad; we're not giving up, and neither should you."
"What if I can't believe in myself anymore?" Efad asked, staring at the floor. She couldn't bring herself to look at him, otherwise she might start crying again.
He chuckled. "Then we will for you."
The next morning, Efad awoke at sunrise and made her way sleepily downstairs. It had been hard to sleep, since she had drifted into a nervous doze after she and Stephan had finished talking, but nevertheless she forced herself to wake mentally.
"Those little gits are going to be in so much trouble when I get a hold of them," she growled to no one in particular, having seen three untouched bedrolls as she left the leaders' sleeping area. However, she was still half-asleep, and in no condition to carry out an empty threat.
"They fell asleep in the common room; don't be too hard on them this time."
She turned towards Stephan's voice and shook her head. "You send them to the showers and they only make it halfway to bed? They must have had a worse night than I did..."
Stephan shifted positions on his seat by the fireplace. "Ready for battle today?"
"Not really. You?"
"Still trying to get there."
Efad sighed. "Go ahead and wake the men; I'll find the Stooges and get them started with breakfast in the kitchen."
An hour and a small kitchen fire later, the army of fifty plus five leaders were sitting in the small dining hall, eating as much food as they dared. They needed their strength for battle, but oddly enough, no one had their normal appetites. No one, that is, except Tom, Bum, and Zam, who were perfectly happy with eating the leftover bacon and biscuits.
"Sure you don't want another one?" Tom asked through a mouthful, offering a biscuit to Efad and Stephan, who merely shook their heads in negetive response.
Zam laughed. "Can you say that again with more food in your mouth?"
Tom tried, and after a moment of shoving and gagging (much to the entertainment of Bum and Zam), found that he could not.
"Boys," Efad muttered to herself under her breath.
As the army left to ready themselves for battle, an uneasiness filled the room. Efad shuddered, positive that her men shared her doubts on the logic of the attack, but she kept a straight face and refused to let anything show. This time, she was going to battle with them; if they were to die, then so would she. It was her duty as their leader.
Zam saw his leader tying her sword around her waist and gave her a worried look. "You're sure you want to come? We can probably handle this one with the numbers we have, if you're thinking about staying."
She shook her head. "No, my place is with my army... Rally the troops and start towards the village, Stephan and I will follow from behind to take out any royal spies that may try to follow."
"Spies? Wow, the queen may finally be taking us seriously." Zam winked at her and grinned. "Don't worry, Tom and Bum are in high spirits today -- the battle shouldn't be too long."
"Here's hoping." She watched him jog off towards his two companions, then sighed and turned to Stephan as he stopped just behind her. "You heard -- we're following. Just do me one favor, very quickly..."
"Anything," he said with a nod.
Efad gave him a tired grin. "Make sure the Three Stooges don't make a mess of organizing the army, just until they set out. Please?"
Her friend laughed. "Sure thing."
"They've just left," Stephan informed Efad as she approached the entrance to their base. "How long until we begin to follow?"
She squinted to see the army, now a reasonable distance into the woods. "...oh, I'd say another minute." With another sigh, she began to finger the hilt of her sword and watched her men disappear from sight. "Do you think this is a wise idea?"
He shrugged. "We're about to find out, I guess. Let's start after them before they get too far away." He started down the beaten path, worn by the feet of many men coming and going over the seasons; he stopped, however, when he found that the girl was not beside or close behind him. "...are you coming, Efad?"
Efad hesitated, unwilling to go forth into battle. "I..." There was nothing driving her forward. After all, maybe there was time to call off the attack... if she ran ahead, she could catch the army and tell them to retreat before it was too late! But what would they think? Would they try to overthrow her for a stronger, more capable leader? A rebellion against a rebel...
She jumped at the sound of Stephan's voice again, then shook the thoughts from her head. "I, um... I'm coming." Starting off in a jog down the trail, she slowed to a walk as her fellow leader matched her speed. In truth, they weren't looking for spies or followers; at this moment, they were merely two friends, walking side by side in the woods. Efad smiled to herself as she thought of the reactions of her men when they saw her fighting on the battlefield. What a sight that would be!
"You aren't planning on sharing our conversation from last night with anyone, are you?"
He chuckled. "Well, I can if you--"
"No, no, that's okay," she interrupted, casting her gaze to the ground. "...I'd actually prefer that no one else knew."
There was the sound of a twig snapping behind them; Efad and Stephan immediately reached for their swords and whirled around, expecting to see one of the queen's spies following them. The only thing they saw, however, was a small cat-like creature sniffing at the scent they had left on the trail. The two exchanged glances and laughed nervously; they knew they were both yet uneasy.
Efad resheathed her sword with another laugh. "I was almost worried for a half a moment..."
"...okay, so I WAS worried. And you were caught by surprise as well, might I add."
A new voice echoed from behind. "Halt, in the name of Queen Miranda!"
The two stopped mid-step and looked at each other, eyes wide. Efad's narrowed as she looked at their visitor through the corner of her eye, then she gave Stephan a discreet signal to keep one hand ready to draw his sword.
She turned and kept her hands in front of her, where the officer could see. "Pardon us, sir; we were only passing through the woods on the way to a village. May we continue?"
The man scowled at her. "Not with those swords, you're not. Only civilians with personal pardon from Queen Miranda are allowed to carry such weapons." His eyes shifted to the Rebel pendants she and Stephan were wearing. "...and where did you find those necklaces?" He asked suspiciously.
Stephan took a step forward. "We got them off of two dead men," he stated firmly, placing one hand on Efad's shoulder. "And if you don't mind, we'd like to reach the village before the noontime, so we'll be going on our way--"
"Stay put, Rebels," the officer snarled. "The queen will reward me if I bring such scum as you to the castle as prisoners -- especially since you're both wearing the pendants given to the Rebel leaders."
Efad glanced at Stephan and sighed. "Where there's one, there's always ten more waiting," she muttered under her breath. "Be on your guard, and don't do anything irrational..."
Just as she finished her sentence, an arrow sailed over her shoulder and struck the officer in the throat, killing him instantly. The two jumped, unaware that anyone had been closely in front of them, and turned to see Zam with his bow still in firing position. "Run!" He shouted. "The queen knew of our attack; the guards are all over the village! Get back to the base!"
"GET THEM!" A voice commanded, which caused ten or fifteen soldiers to emerge from the nearby shrubbery with their swords ready to attack.
Efad unsheathed her sword and grimaced, glancing around for the easiest escape. "They've surrounded us -- if you see an opening, go for it and don't look back. Show no mercy, for you will receive none!"
"Same for you," was Stephan's reply.
More of the Rebel army had been following Zam, and were now coming to aid their leaders with wild war cries and their swords drawn. The soldiers fought back, though they were vastly outnumbered. Blows were exchanged for endless moments until another cry came from the top of the hill. Efad turned and gasped, "oh, NO!" at the sight of twenty or more royal guards charging from behind. She whistled loudly and shouted, "RETREAT!" to her army; some managed to escape their battles without injuries, while others were badly wounded and in need of aid. She waited until the men had run past before charging after them, but stopped as she heard a cry of pain from a familiar voice. With a glance over her shoulder, she saw Stephan battling a guard on his own, but a stream of blood was trickling down from his side. "Stephan, come on!" She pleaded. "We have to retreat!"
He grimaced and, keeping a hand to his bleeding side, managed to stab the guard through the heart. "I'm fine," he hissed to Efad. "Go on, I'm right behind you--" He was cut off as two more soldiers grabbed his arms and roughly bound him in shackles. When he struggled, one hit him over the head with the hilt of his sword, knocking him unconscious.
"No! STEPHAN!" Efad, blinded by rage, charged the soldiers with her sword held high over her head. 'The royal family took my father and mother from me... I won't let Miranda take Stephan, also!' She thought; her charge was brought to an abrupt stop, however, as she felt two sets of hands grasping her arms. She struggled, thinking a group of soldiers had grabbed her, and screamed, "LET ME GO, YOU HELL-HATED FOOLS!"
Zam's voice came from behind her shoulder, trying to calm her. "Efad, stop! There's nothing you can do -- he wants you to leave him!"
"I won't!" She snarled fiercely. "I won't let Miranda take someone else from me, not again! Now, I ORDER YOU TO LET ME GO!"
Tom sighed angrily and muttered, "I hate to do this... forgive me, Efad!"
The next instant, the hilt of Tom's sword came over her head, and she fell unconscious.
"You FOOLS! Not only did you disobey orders, but you let one of your fellow leaders be captured by those--those ratbag guards!"
Tom shifted uncomfortably. "...Efad, he knew he was going to be captured."
"If I don't have your heads for this, I--" Efad stopped in mid-shout and stared at the boy in disbelief. "...what did you say?"
Bum nodded in support of his cousin. "That's right. This morning, just before we started out, he made us promise to insure your safe return at all costs. He said that he'd hold 'em off se we could get you back okay, but he told us not to worry about him at all. And he said not to listen to you if you ordered otherwise," he added softly, looking almost sheepish. "I don't know, I thought he could handle it... but when the attack went wrong, we had to retreat before we even started, and then you were both ambushed..."
"That's why we couldn't let you help him," Zam said quietly. "You always say to hold a promise in higher regard than an order... and we promised him we'd keep you safe. It wasn't our decision -- he forced us to promise, or he'd have our heads put on pikes outside the entrance..."
Efad sank into a chair and covered her eyes with her hand. "I never wanted this," she whimpered. "I should have called it off when I had the chance... I should have forgotten my anger for Miranda and just let it be..." tears streamed down her face as she leaned over the table, resting her face on her arms.
The three exchanged glances, looked at their weeping leader, and silently left with their eyes to the ground.
For some time, the silence was only broken by the sound of Efad's choked sobs and moans. She had only once before felt this pain... the pain from the thought that she was again helpless. Every effort she had poured into leading an army was as good as gone, without someone guiding her. Stephan had been the only person to reach her after her parents' death... but now that he, too, had been taken from her, what was there left for her to do?
Drying her eyes on her shirt, she calmly took a dagger from her boot and examined it with care. 'I never thought this would be useful...' she thought sadly. Her hands trembled as she gingerly placed the blade to her neck, shuddering at the cold touch from the metal. It would be over in a instant, if only she could act quickly...
"He wouldn't want you to do that."
Efad jumped, dropping the dagger, and whirled to face the new voice. A cloaked figure was leaning against the doorframe to her study, their arms crossed calmly over their chest. "Who are you?" Efad demanded. "How did you get in there?"
The figure shrugged and snapped their fingers; the fire in the fireplace died simultaneously, which sent a chill up the Rebel leader's spine. "I'm no one of concern. But you... I can help you achieve your revenge against Miranda."
"I don't want revenge," Efad hissed, closing her fingers around her dagger's hilt. "I just want to die..."
"I can help with that, as well." A hand extended to the girl. "But first, let me see your pendant, Leader of the Rebels."
"Why should I?"
A short laugh escaped the figure. "If you're going to kill yourself, what use is it?"
Efad glanced at the round pendant on the table and, somewhat hesitantly, handed it to the cloaked visitor. But to her surprise, as they took it from her, the cloak melted away and formed black clothing. She never saw a face, for too quickly it changed to match her own, but with a more sinister grin than she had ever seen. "What the--"
"What a foolish girl to trust a shape-shifter! Now I can dethrone Miranda and claim Insanity as my own!" The shifter reached out and grabbed Efad by the arm. She could feel her energy being drained through the touch, but she could not free herself.
The last thing she saw as she fell unconscious was the rose Stephan had given her, on the floor amongst the shattered remains of its vase.