Completed True Rebel

Zael Castomir

Slayer of Ganfarred
Character Biography
He marked the passage of time by the growing length of his hair. Once it was short. Now, after considerable time, the ends of his blondes locks touched his shoulders. And in this time so recorded by the lengthening of his hair he endured unending agony.

Zael Castomir had awoke in this place, some small cellar with bare stone walls and little else. He had been stripped naked, was chained to the wall by his wrists with his arms held aloft, the balls of his feet not quite able to touch the ground, and the cellar was kept at a steady chill day in and day out—such was a weakness of his, this increased susceptibility to the cold. Yet he was not allowed to succumb fully to hypothermia, no. That was where she came in.

Jenna Siris, formerly a nurse working at the Academy of Vel Anir's infirmary, ensured with her healing magic that Zael was kept alive. Three, sometimes four or sometimes five, times a day she would come down the stairs into the cellar. Do whatever needed doing to sustain him just enough on that line between life and death. And then depart. She was, in fact, far more capable of healing magic than she had let on previously...before she had betrayed Zael and seen to his being captured.

It was worse whenever she was escorting Kimble (formerly Proctor Kimble of the Academy) down into the cellar. His appearances were more rare, but each was marked by long sessions of ice torture. Kimble's Cold magic had the capacity to numb as one might expect, but also the terrifying capacity, when he so wished it, to not numb at all. Again and again Zael's fingers, Zael's toes, were frozen solid and shattered and reformed by Jenna only for it to happen once more. Kimble knew every nerve ending in the human body, and he punctured them through with splinters of ice. Soft areas of flesh were peeled open with razor icicles and even Zael's internal organs were not spared.

None of it, however horrifying, was yet enough to kill him. And though Zael tried to keep his wherewithal together through it, the human mind could only endure so much.

Only when Zael had been reduced to slobbering, shivering incoherency, his very thoughts turned into a insensible slurry, did the torture begin to slow down. Zael was marking time by the growing of his hair, but there was a period when it seemed to grow a full half inch in the blink of an eye. He realized, as some sense of cognizance returned, that it was as if all those days had been stolen from him, so shattered had his mind been.

Throughout all of this, from the first day Zael awoke in the cellar to when he regained his sense of self after being broken, neither Jenna nor Kimble had ever spoken a word to him. Though, Zael figured, they didn't need to. He reckoned what they wanted was clear enough.

Or so he thought.

The first day of the doubt was the first day one of the two spoke to him. And it was Jenna. She came down the stairs and into the cellar like she usually did, but this time she had something in her hand. A letter.

And she spoke to him.
He walked slowly toward the small garrison of Homeguard there at Ganfarred Keep. He had armor the like of which he had not worn until this day. He had a sword which had never been drawn, and in its sheath did it rest still.

Two Guardsmen at the Keep saw him. Eyed him apprehensively.

He continued until the command was given for him to halt. He did.

His intention was simple.

He was turning himself in.
"Do you know Lumen Adagio?" said Jenna. These were the first five words he had heard in perhaps months.

Zael's eye looked to the letter in her hand. Looked to her. But he said nothing.

"She knows you." Jenna waved the letter casually back and forth with little swings of her wrist. "Seems she needs a mentor."

Zael kept his silence. Merely continued to stare at her.

Jenna brought the letter back before her, briefly glanced at it, and then said, "I will read you my favorite line. Quote: 'And maybe it's dumb but I feel like I can trust you. I'm sure you'll prove me right or wrong eventually.'"

Zael spoke—or tried to, at least. His words seemed caught, frozen perhaps, in his throat, and only an indistinct croak came out from his lips. He had not been given adequate food or water throughout his capture, and his mouth felt constantly parched.

"What was that?"

"I one...of the good ones."

Jenna smiled faintly. "The Academy does not produce 'good ones.' The Academy produces what it needs."

"I'll prove you provin Lumen right."

"That she can trust you?"

Zael, summoning all the confidence and surety he could muster in his present woeful condition, said simply but firmly, "Yeah."

Jenna shook her head. "You do not know what you are talking about."

"I know enough."

"About me? Or about her?"


"Then on both counts you are wrong." Jenna rolled up the letter and pocketed it. "Why do you think I have done what I have done?"

"Get on with it. Say what you wanna say."

Jenna, unperturbed, said, "Did we both not enter the Academy through the same means? Both of us, taken from our families, and brought there against our will?"

"I didn't have much of a family to leave."

"Your opinion on your mother and father is irrelevant." By the way she spoke, she seemed to know a little something about Zael's history. Likely Kimble's doing. "The fact remains. You and I and everyone in Vel Anir with magic arrives at those gates—and spare me your exceptions which prove the rule. Yet, I ask, place yourself in my shoes. You at least have magic that Vel Anir values, that it appreciates. And I do not. It was not a lie that all through my time at the Academy I was thought lesser and treated as though I were subhuman. I would have loved to be a Dreadlord—an actual Dreadlord. Yet my talents were ignored and discarded."


"Think what you will of me," Jenna said, catching onto Zael's scathing tone. "But I ask you this: why should I believe in Vel Anir when Vel Anir never believed in me? They forced me into the Academy, and then they did not even want me. At least with Armeus, I am appreciated." Jenna had spoken Kimble's first name with a warmth that was lacking from all else she had said.

Then she turned and left, ascending back up the stairs, leaving Zael alone in the cold of the cellar once again.
The next day, Kimble came down those Kress-forsaken stairs (Zael had grown to hate the sound of footfalls on that creaky wood). But as with Jenna yesterday, today he was doing something different. Turned out he hadn't come down for another session of torture.

He had a cup of water in his hand. He held it up, indicating for Zael to drink it. And what fucking choice did he have? Zael drank the water, and as he did, he figured it might be for his parched throat. Something that would help him speak a little better.

He figured right. Soon as his gaze settled on Kimble again, Kimble spoke.

"There's that look in your eye."

"Waitin just for you."

Kimble huffed amusedly through his nose. Tossed the cup away over his shoulder.

"It's always been there. Ever since you were a sniveling little mutt who showed up at the gates of the Academy and became my responsibility, it's always been there. I don't think there's ever been a bigger thorn in my side than you. That look in your eye is something I've always wanted to snuff out, the final nail I wanted to hammer down with all the rest. It's been there since you were a boy, and it's here even now. When I reduced you to a slobbering husk, wracked with delirium, even though you couldn't even say your own name...that look was there. I just can't seem to get rid of it."

"You could have just let Gilram put you out of your misery."

"Ah...yes. That." Kimble, letting some of his pride show through, pulled open his robe briefly and revealed a core of dark ice which now occupied the hole Gilram had tore through him. Kimble tapped the ice with a fingernail three times. Tink, tink, tink. "Maybe I ought to thank to Archon. He gave me a new perspective."

"Send him a letter. Hopefully someone won't intercept it."

Kimble, with only mild reproach, said, "You need not speak ill of Jenna."

"What's she gonna do about it? Heal me?"

Kimble was not angry. He was not irritated or annoyed. Any of these would have been normal. The man had an assured calm about him; the kind of calm which only came from someone who had a plan.

"I could kill you. Right now. I could have killed you at any point during your stay here. I could have simply killed you in the Blackwood—either time."

Zael said nothing. And though his eye smoldered with loathing for the man before him, he knew Kimble was right.

"I my brief encounter with death...what it truly means. We think that we know, that we can understand, but none of us can really touch oblivion. I was right there. On the precipice. And I discovered...that if I had indeed fallen would be the cessation of everything...all of the good and all of the bad. I would not need to worry about punishment from the Academy, the maddening imposition of the Republic, or even the little thorn in my side named Zael Castomir. All of it would just be gone. The fight would be over."

Kimble stepped forward. Dropped a hard hand down on Zael's shoulder. "And, as this pertains to you, you've got a lot of fight in you."

"And it'll never be extinguished."

It was here that Kimble's expression slowly creased into a satisfied smirk. And he said slowly, "I'm counting on it."

He turned. Started to walk away. Made it to the steps and started to ascend them when Zael called out, "What the hell do you want from me?"

Kimble stopped. Briefly looked at him through the railing.

"I'm going to make you a challenge you can't refuse."
"State your name," said one of the Guardsmen, "and what your business is here."

He held up his hands. Said, "Zael Castomir."

Neither of the two Guards recognized the name. Though their superiors would.

"And your business?"

"Go get your lieutenant."

Normally, they would not have allowed themselves to be ordered so by an unknown person. Yet there was something about this Zael Castomir. Something which, though they didn't outwardly show it, frightened them into action.

A certain look in his eye.
As the next few days progressed, no more torture came. Even stranger, Kimble and Jenna had changed the chains on the wall to allow Zael longer ones, such that he could actually sit down on the floor now (and god damn did he ever get the best sleep of his life while in a seated position that night). They were even feeding him better. The cellar was still kept at a chilly temperature, he was still made weak and shivering, he still had to endure the awkward embarrassment of Jenna cleaning up his piss and shit, but the overall change was a marked one.

Which meant something was up. Zael couldn't say what outside of Kimble's cryptic parting words about some "challenge" a week ago, but he knew that whatever he and Jenna were planning, they were moving into a new phase of it.

So when both Kimble and Jenna descended the stairs one day, Zael kept alert. Kimble, as it so happened, had a collection of parchments in his hand this time. Jenna, surprisingly, had a chair. Well. Maybe it wasn't so surprising. Zael didn't actually have the strength to stand on his two feet, so having him sit in the chair made the coming dialogue a little more natural than if he were on the floor.

"I understand you wanted to join the Blackguard," Kimble said.

"It wasn't for the reason you might think," Zael said.

"I know enough to infer why you wanted to." Kimble cocked his head. "Gilram. Isn't that right?"

Zael didn't answer, worried in that moment about Noel and Sable. Then it occurred to him that, because of Jenna's duplicity, it was highly likely that Kimble already knew about their intentions, and that it didn't make much sense for him to go after them on Gilram's behalf anyway.

Kimble spoke first, even after Zael dispelled that worry. "A formidable foe. But still...just one man. Is that what you want to do with your life? Narrow it down to something as hollow as vengeance?"

"Tryin to persuade me not to come after you?"

Kimble just smirked confidently. "If you truly wish to waste your life, I can see to it that Jenna nurses you back to full strength, and we can settle our grievances." And then he added a goading lie, "You might even win."

Zael scowled, but kept his mouth shut, however difficult it was to do so. About half of him was screaming for the chance at Kimble, but the other half knew that he wouldn't be able to beat him one versus one and that it would be senseless to die like a dog. If he wanted his shot one day at Kimble, he'd have to be smart about it.

Kimble caught on. "Good. It's promising that you didn't accept that offer." And after a pause, "Back to Gilram."

"He's not just one man. It's what he represents," Zael said. "He's old way. Through and through."

Kimble scoffed and shook his head. "What makes you think that Archon Gilram is any less a victim of the old way as yourself or any of your peers?"

And for the third time, Zael didn't speak. This time, he just lacked the words, for inside his mind a troubling war emerged. There were plenty of angles Zael could have taken to rebut the idea presented by Kimble, but nevertheless...the idea reopened the enticing offer Gilram had presented to the graduating Initiates in the Blackwood. Liberation. Freedom. Choice. The essence found in the offer was something Zael fundamentally aligned with, despite all the vehement thoughts of the old way he possessed now in the wake of Sieglilly's death.

Kimble prodded him again with a new question. "Is that what you want? To destroy the 'old way' of the Academy and the Dreadlords? Hmm?"

"I'd say that's a damn fine start for a Vel Anir that ain't the same as yesterday."

Kimble didn't take long to consider it. Said, "A worthy fight. One not nearly as narrow as simply placing as your goal the death of one man. But...ultimately a flawed pursuit. How could you even know what victory looks like? When you've achieved it? When all of the 'old way' is gone? The pursuit is grand, but it lacks definition, you see."

That odd answer to Zael, especially coming from Kimble. But Jenna didn't leave him much time to ponder it. Standing beside Kimble, she spoke up then, asking, "What about Everleigh Ebersol? Is it your wish to simply live a life with her?"

"What's it to you, Jenna?" Zael shot back, his words like daggers.

"Ah. Yes. That," Kimble said offhandedly. "If it is so that you want little more than to be a 'family man,' then I will simply end you now, like slaying a lame horse for its own good."

Zael smirked and shook his head. "It doesn't surprise me."

"What doesn't surprise you?"

"That neither of you got any clue what you're talkin about when it comes to me and Ever."

Now it was Kimble's turn to smirk, and he mused, "My worst fears about the Revolution...the word of the spies and informants...all true." He smacked the papers he held with the back of his other hand. "Your class. A decade's worth of work for many of you. All of it left in tatters by just two years of the Revolution."

Kimble turned a hard, derisive gaze onto Zael then. "What is it that you think? That you have friends amongst your peers? That you have family? Do you think that Edric, Sable, Noel, Ralene, Elias, Henk, Alistair, Liliana, Gaage, even that prissy Kristen, any of them, are anything of the kind? Do you think that any of them wouldn't have done their best to kill you if the Graduation had gone without a hitch? You've forgotten what it means to be a Dreadlord, Zael."

Zael was about to speak, but Kimble whipped up a finger to silence him and said, "And worse...whatever you think you know of Proctor Ebersol...remind yourself that she comes from the same place as you, Revolution or not. Dreadlords are weapons, built for that singular purpose, and the Academy impresses upon its Initiates that usefulness is all that matters where others are concerned. How confident are you that Proctor Ebersol isn't simply using you for something you can't even articulate?"
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It was obvious that Kimble and Jenna were trying to drive a wedge between him and Ever, between him and any Initiate from his class who was even slightly worth a damn, and he could figure out that those papers had the bloody, messy highlights of all their exploits during the Academy. Things probably handpicked to get a rise out of him if need be.

But what he saw from Jenna was more interesting. That little blink-and-you'll-miss-it look of worry when Kimble—sorry, Armeus for her—said that usefulness was all that mattered to Dreadlords. Seemed she either thought or wanted her connection with Kimble to be something more.

Zael almost smirked. Not as old way as you think, Jenna.

"The point," Kimble said, filling in the silence again, "is that all of you are at your core weapons. Tarnished quality weapons, thanks to the Revolution, but weapons just the same. You'll struggle and fail to be anything else. Don't waste your time."

If Jenna felt that worry again, she held it completely this time. Zael didn't speak on it. Just kept that little secret for himself.

"I wasn't goin to," Zael said, playing in to Kimble's argument to see where the man was going with it. "I was goin off to be just that. A weapon. No shortage of fights in the Army of the East these days."

"Of course. Your declaration to join the military. You of all people falling into the ranks," Kimble said, not hiding the hint of derision in his tone there. "Happy to serve the same Republic that was content to leave you for dead in Vel Janix, hm? Just doing exactly what's instructed of you?"

"They might even be crazy enough to promote me. Then I can really start causin some havoc." And he flashed a wry smile to his captors.

"You'll get nowhere, but worse, all of those fights which the Army of the East will be so keen to throw you into won't be your fights. Not a single one. Maybe you think you'll cause havoc from within. 'Give them hell,' or whatever it was that you were so fond of saying. This too is foolish, and you know it. You'll fall right into line and do the bidding of your superiors whether you want to or not...just like a bootlicker."

Zael couldn't help the grimace which inevitably came from Kimble throwing his own insult back at him.

Then, exasperated and exhausted from the conversation, from having a notion of where this could be going but not truly knowing for sure, Zael said, " you...want? Hurry up and say it or let me out of these chains so we can have that fight and get all this over with."

"Impatient," Jenna chastised.

Kimble, however, raised a hand to curb any further chastisements from her. He was still engaged and confident, calm and unperturbed. He said, "I consider myself a master of breaking people. Every Initiate placed under my direct purview I have broken down and seen remade. All of them...except you. Breaking a body is far too easy and ineffectual, breaking a mind isn't enough in your case. I need to break your spirit."

"Good luck."

"I won't be the one who needs it." Now came a grin from Armeus Kimble, the first of its kind that Zael had ever seen since he first encountered the man at the age of six, and it was the first time he felt a quiver of true fear. "You see, I was going about all wrong in your case." He gave a small, crediting side nod to Jenna for her inspiration in this. "My adversity only made you stronger. What you need is for your torment to come from within. A fight of your own choosing...and one you can scarcely hope to win. The sight of victory, always just out of your reach, will do what a decade of the Academy could not."

"Yeah? And what makes you think I'll even do this?"

"Because you can't help yourself."

Zael said nothing, but the frigidity of that undeniable truth was colder than the chill in the cellar.

"There's something in your mind. Right now. I don't know what it is, you probably don't know what it is...yet. But it's there, because it's in your nature, Zael. You want the grand fight that will define your life."

Zael kept his silence, kept his eye at a downcast angle. His brow was hard and ridged with his nascent thoughts about this and about everything.

Kimble snapped a finger within his sight. Zael looked up. And Kimble said clearly, "So I will make you a wager—"

"You want me to pick that fight. See if I can win it."

"Precisely." A tiny smile of satisfaction gripped the former Proctor's expression. "You know that's better than the alternative—dying here. You know that you want to prove me wrong, and best me once and for all."

Kimble turned, and Jenna turned with him. As they ascended the stairs, leaving Zael in the cellar, Kimble called out one final thing.

"Think hard on it, Zael. Choose a fight worthy of that rebellious spirit of yours."
The lieutenant showed at the gates of Ganfarred. All along the ramparts Guardsmen were on high alert from the situation.

"Dreadlord Zael Castomir," he called out, keeping whatever nervousness he may have felt hidden. "You are wanted for the crime of desertion."

"I'm here to turn myself in."

The lieutenant glanced at the two gate guards. Surprised. Then called, "You submit yourself before the authority of the Anirian Guard, then?"


"Very well. Follow my instructions." The lieutenant swallowed. "Remove your sword and drop it."

Zael unbuckled the sheathed sword at his belt and held it out and let it fall to the dirt.

"Remove all your armor above the waist."

It took a little time, undoing all of those straps and laces, but he did as the lieutenant bid.

Then the two gate guards drew daggers. The lieutenant said, "We have no anti-magic cuffs. Therefore, for our security, we must keep you under blade." Meaning they would stand ready to slit his throat and run him through should he try anything. "Do you accept?"

And Zael crossed the penultimate threshold.

"I accept."
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Days passed before Kimble returned. Just Jenna, silently taking care of the basics. All the while, Zael contemplated. Ran through every possibility, every argument. Thought about his time in Tarrow, his time in the Academy, and all the people he knew. The good and the bad of it all.

With everything in sight, what rose to the top? What gleamed like gold and called to him? What truly stirred his heart to action? What ignited his passion? Brought it from an ember to lasting bonfire?

Days passed.




* * * * *​

Kimble came down the stairs on that third day, and before he could even get a word out, Zael said:

"I want Vel Anir to release control of the Dreadlords."

Kimble paused in his approach, a mild surprise followed by contemplation playing out across his countenance.

"All this time, it's been about freedom. Choice," Zael said. "For four hundred years it's been this way. Every child who has magic is taken or given to the State, and they don't have a say in it. They're Dreadlords until they die, whether they want to be or not."

Kimble inclined his chin. Receptive.

"The Republic is no different from the Houses. I don't need to tell anyone what'll happen once too many Dreadlords 'choose' the Reserves, and when Anirians stop givin up their children voluntarily."

Exile wasn't even worth mentioning, because that wouldn't be one of these illusory options for long.

"I want Anirians with magic to be treated the same as any other citizen. No more, no less. I want us all to have the choice of how we want to live our lives, not be told how its gonna be by the State."

Zael looked Kimble hard in the eye.

"That's my fight. Freein the Dreadlords from the State. And I won't stop until it's done."

Kimble stepped forward with a slow and considered gait. He stood before Zael for a long moment. Then he reached over and with the key produced from his pocket unlocked the shackles which bound Zael to the wall.

At last the former Proctor smiled.

"And so we have our wager."
Jenna saw Zael nursed back to health and strength in the days which followed the wager. Then Kimble came down and escorted Zael up the stairs and at long last did Zael leave that Kress-forsaken cellar behind. The room above was simple, and there was only a small and modest bedroom attached; it was a cabin that they were all in, and by the lack of village sounds outside, probably one isolated in some spot hell-knows-where in the middle of a forest.

Kimble had a surprise for him. Clothes, arming garments, armor—blackened and with a thick dark fur-lined cloak—and a sword sitting on the table.

"You shouldn't have," Zael said flatly.

Kimble smirked. "I didn't have the heart to send you away naked." And, continuing with the uncharacteristic mirth and sarcasm, he added, "It wouldn't be fair."

Zael started to get dressed and armed.

"You're not going to be here if I decide to come back."

"Of course not," Kimble said.

"When I win that wager," Zael said, pausing with his breastplate half on his body, "I will find you."

"Don't die before you can."

Zael shifted his dangerous gaze over to Jenna. "And you."

"I look forward to our next meeting," she said, unperturbed.

Zael picked up the sheathed sword and tied it to his belt. He walked to the door. Opened it. Stood in the doorway and squinted in the sunlight and then looked back over his shoulder with his singular eye.

"You must know this area. Where's the nearest post for the Army of the East?"

Kimble obliged, and told him.

"Ganfarred Keep."
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Zael stood in the citadel of Ganfarred Keep. He was in Commander Varez's office chambers at the top level of the citadel, and he stood before Varez now with the chamber full of Guardsmen, one of which had a dagger to his throat and another with a dagger pressed into his chest above the heart. His hands were bound behind his back with a simple rope.

Commander Varez stared at him disdainfully for a long time. Then at last he rose from his seat, rounded his desk, stood before Zael and said...

"...I should have you hanged."

Zael said nothing. Just returned the Commander's hard gaze with one of his own.

Varez jabbed his forefinger down at the ground to emphasis his point, "I will NOT have a precedent set under my watch. The Army of the East has entered its most critical epoch since its establishment, and there is much work to do in reclaiming Anirian territory. Work that cannot be undermined by a lack of military discipline. And now you show up at my doorstep, like a rainsoaked dog looking for shelter, threatening that very discipline with your mere presence. The Dreadlords under the Homeguard's command must be loyal, must be trustworthy, must be where they are supposed to be and do what they are supposed to do."

Exasperated, Commander Varez flung his hands up in air. "For the love of Kress, son, you've done everything wrong. If you wanted exile, you should have stayed exiled and never declared yourself for the military in the first damn place."

Varez paced around some, and Zael's eye tracked him stolidly as he did. Finally Varez came to a stop once more, his anger and irritation calmed some, and said, "I would have you hanged. But the decision isn't mine alone to make. You will be held here until a military tribunal decides your fate."

Zael didn't say anything.

Varez, that irritation flaring up again because of Zael's silence, said, "Tell me, Dreadlord. What punishment do you think you should receive?"

"The punishment of those who have the gall to think they're worthy of freedom."

Varez scoffed, indignant. "This is a matter of service to country, boy. Of doing the right thing. And you had your choice, Dreadlord, you just—"

"Choice?" Zael said.

The temperature in the room seemed a little hotter.

"I've never had a real choice."

The two Guardsmen holding the daggers tightened their grips.

"Until now."

Zael's eye blazed with an inferno, the very air in the office chamber congealed into flames, he felt the blade across his neck slice into his flesh—

And then the entire upper half of the citadel in Ganfarred Keep exploded.
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