“I couldn’t find you in the courtyard! What are you doing here?!”
“M-mother?” He questioned in astonishment as she grabbed his shoulders, wondering if she had known what he was thinking.
“We have to leave right now.” With those words and without waiting for him, she hastily took his arm and pulled him toward the door. “We have to get to your father.”
He had never seen her like that before, so shaken and afraid. Yet, there was no indication that she had known what he was contemplating. “W-what’s wrong, mother?”
“Hush and come with me!” She snapped sharply, forcefully pulling him along with her as she rushed out the door.
With his room being on the third floor he could not tell what was happening but as they descended toward the first, he quickly took notice that the house mages and servants were also rushing about. Shouting over one another, they all look panicked with most of them wearing an expression much like his mother’s.
“There is a secret passage in your father’s audience chamber. We have to get you out before-”
“Mother, what is happening?!” He screeched and her fingers dug even deeper into his arm as she dragged him along. “Mother! You’re hurting me!”
“Quiet Rhultal!” She hushed.
“My lady, hurry! They are already here!” One of the house mages yelled over to them as they reached the first floor.
“Oliah?!?” He managed to cry out the woman’s name before she disappeared around a corner.
“Come now!” His mother pulled even harder, moving them both in the opposite direction of where the mages and servants were heading.
Taking another look at those rushing past them, he finally took notice of the mages and their battle attires. Some were already wearing their enchanted gears while others were still hastily passing out weapons and armors. Thinking back, Oliah too, had been clad in the silver mail that was bestowed upon her as a mage of their house.
“W-what did Oliah mean?” He questioned as his own sense of fear and dread began taking hold of his body amidst the sound of screaming and clashing in the distance.
His mother did not answer but simply continued pulling him along.
“Please mother!” He screamed again, pulling back in resistance.
“There is no time, Rhultal!”
She lashed back and he could feel her arms strengthening with magic. With a simple tug, she almost lifted him off the ground.
Unable to fight back, he could do naught but follow along.
Moving through the courtyard which was the fastest path to his father’s audience chamber, he caught a glance of a familiar man lying against the western wall of the courtyard next to a tattered and bloodied horse.
Dull golden hair covered the left side of the man’s bearded face, while leaving one of his gray eyes to stare blankly into the distance. There was a stream of blood from the man’s mouth dyeng his golden beard and flowing down to stain his fine auburn cloak along with his gilded collared shirt underneath. The man’s left hand was resting peacefully on his stomach where a large dark stain was covering much of his fine clothes and cloak.
Though bleeding, the injured horse stood tiredly but silently beside its master as if to await the man’s next ride.
“M-mother! Mother that was-”
It was one of the four men whom he had seen earlier that day with his father. The four of them had all left together but why the man was back and in such a state, he could not understand.
“Don’t look.” She pulled him even harder and he could almost feel his arm dislodging.
As they neared the small audience hall, two of their family mages who were guarding it nodded at them and hastily opened the doors.
“Rholan! Are you here?!”
“Come inside!” His father’s voice promptly called out from within and the two guards hurriedly ushered them inside before sealing the doors again behind them.
“F-father? What is happening?” Confused, he called out to the man before them for answers.
“I am a fool…” The man whispered as if speaking to himself.
Moving from one side of the chamber to the back, his father pressed a large glyph on the back wall. From around the room, six other smaller glyphs that were already glowing suddenly burst into flames before surging toward the glyph. Converging into a large fireball, with a word from his father, the flames fell apart to reveal a small cylindrical rod about the size of a finger in its place.
“Lord Ulqurin was right and because of my stubbornness, I have doomed us all.” His lord father spoke, plucking the rod out of the air.
‘Lord Ulqurin?’ His thoughts instantly went back to the bloodied and lifeless lord that was laying against the wall of their courtyard.
“How did they even know?!” His mother questioned anxiously, not letting go of his hand but pulling him along.
“I don’t know, Meryl. But this timing… they must have been onto us for a while.”
“How can that be!? Is there a traitor amongst us?”
“That- I refuse to believe someone would betray us… especially when we are so close.” His father replied and quickly reeled in his seething anger before approaching the large table made out of blackstone at the center of the room.
With a swift incantation, the top of the stone table split straight down the center and both sides slid away from each other, opening a path to the center support of the table where a small hole was now visible.
With the rod in hand, his father hurried forward and dropped it into the cylindrical opening.
There was a flash of light from inside the hole, then it began shining as waves of warm light flowed outward into the chamber. Swirling around them all like mist, with another word from his lord father, the lights swiftly surged together above the table and coalesced into a small transparent orb.
“The catalyst could only contain enough mana to transport two people.” His father explained, not looking away from the translucent object that was hovering above the table. “Take it.”
“Go, Meryl. Take the boy and go before it is too late.”
His mother hesitated for a moment before stepping forward for the crystal.
The door to the audience chamber was suddenly blasted open, sending shards of metal, stone, and dust into the room.
“What are you waiting for?! GO!” His father’s voice resounded loudly through the smoke and confusion that had swept over them.
Taken aback, he held onto her as his mother rushed for the crystal that was hovering before them.
Something else tore through the room and smashed into the crystal before his mother could take hold of it, shattering it into pieces .
Tearfully blocking his face while she quickly attempted to shield him, “M-mother!” He cried out from within her clutches as a number of footsteps rushed into the room.
Heavy and methodical as if on purpose for dramatic effects, another final set of footsteps sauntered coolly into the chamber after the others.
“Before what is too late, my lord?” A stern but effiminate voice questioned them and the dust billowing around was instantly swept away, revealing five people in fine plate armor standing before the rubbles of the shattered entrance.
At the center and wearing a suit of red plate armor very different from the other four, was a knight carrying the emblem of a broken sword upon their chest plate. Two sharp horns also protruded forward proudly through the knight’s basinet. Like elongated canines and judging from her small yet menacing stature, the person was undoubtedly of the famed Zerakin warrior clan.
Upon a second look, the knight’s armor was not red, but instead covered from head to toe in blood, just like the bloodied short sword in her right hand.
“Urzeil…” His father grumbled cautiously.
With a dignified yet feminine step forward, “Surround them.” The red knight ordered, her soft yet emotionless voice suffusing through the room like a cold rain shower.
Following the zerakin’s command, the four other armored mages rushed to quickly encircle them.
“To send his slaughter hounds, his Majesty must truly want me dead.” Perhaps voicing his nerves, his father immediately took a defensive stance.
Ignoring the remark, the bloodred knight raised her short sword and pointed it forward at them, “Rholan Vox Ethilia AnDargus, Sovereign and Keeper of AnDarg, High Lord of the silver plains. For the crime of conspiring and inciting unholy rebellions in these times of peace, you are hereby stripped of all claims and titles bestowed upon you by his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Avalian Xem Eltera Gulsia, beloved Hero of the people and God King of Honos. By imperial decree, you and yours are hereby sentenced to die.”
The zerakin twisted the sword sideways in her hand, “Have you any last words?”
Not moving a step, his father slowly relaxed himself and brusquely brushed off the dusts on his chest before poising magnificently once more.
“The House of AnDargus will never again kneel before those who can do naught, but take from others. Be them commoners, nobles, kings, or emperors… be them even a god king.”
With a pause, for some unknown reason, his father turned and glanced back at him before returning his attention to the Zerakin.
“I have spent my whole life averting my gaze from the suffering of the people outside my domain. I have allowed them as sacrifices in the hopes of protecting my own… and for my inactions, I have paid dearly.”
“Father…” He dared not look away.
“And while it is now too late for such regrets, I, the Silver Stallion of AnDarg will falter no longer.” His father continued, the words resonating loudly throughout the room. “If today is my day or reckoning and only death awaits me,” extending his right hand outward, a cold draft began surging into the room as a spear of swirling crystal dust slowly began forming in his father’s hand. “Then I will die with pride, knowing that I have finally stood up to fight for what is just and what is right.” The room shook and a thick veil of bluish light could be seen wrapping itself around his father’s body. A coat of visible mana.
“… I will be sure to deliver your last words to his Imperial Majesty. For now, you can perish knowing that we will spare no effort in purging all those who have sided with you from this holy land.” The zerakin calmly spoke from underneath her helmet. Raising her sword above her head, the weapon began to glow with a bluish light. “Commence the execution.”
With a command, the zerakin slashed downward with her upraised sword.
He watched as his lord father’s spear sliced through the air, twisting in unnatural angles while jerking from person to person as the four mages took turns rushing at his father.
He held his tongue as the battle became a blur to his eyes and he listened, as the magically infused room began trembling due to the explosive powers erupting with each attack.
“Rhultal, look at me.” A gentle voice whispered into his ears.
Still clutching tightly onto her, he looked up and his mother was smiling down at him. Her usual pained smile, it was one that he had seen countless times before. One that had never served as anything other than confirmation for a lack of options.
“I am so sorry.” She softly apologized, the forced smile still plastered on her face.
“Momma…?” He whimpered as his body shook in fear from what was happening around them.
“Forgive us, sweet one.” She leaned down and kissed his forehead. “You are faultless, yet you have been pulled into this mess because of our selfishness. At least you alone, must survive.”
“M-momma? What are you saying? Momma?!” He questioned and clung onto her dress as she gracefully stood up. “Momma? Please! Please don’t go!”
“Be strong, sweet Rhul.” She pressed her hands over his own, gently undoing his grasp. “Steel your heart now and wait for your father. When he tells you to run, you run. Alright?”
“I- I can’t…” He painfully replied, hearing the resignation in her voice.
“You can. You are stronger than you think and you will definitely be fine… even if you are alone.” With another smile, she averted her eyes and pulled away.
“NO! Don’t leave me!” He pleaded, feeling his heart sinking as her hands discarded his own.
“Rholan!” His mother’s voice overwhelmed the constant clashing around them and from her body, intense green flames burst forth through the room.
Burning through her clothes, the flames whipped about furiously, keeping their assailants at bay while cradling him in a protective vortex.
Quickly retreating from the four mages, his father rushed back to their side.
“You promised, Rholan.” A desperate and regretful voice reminded from the flames, “Even if it’s just him, save our- Ugh!” Her face twisting in agony, his mother hastily turned away from his sight.
Seeing her skin cracking and drying up as more flames erupted from the cracks, “No! Momma stop!!!” He screamed powerlessly, held back by his own fear and the flames swirling around him.
“Kuh!” His father stood against the blazes that were erupting around them and clenched his free hand tightly, “Forgive me!”
“NOO!! DON’T!!” He wailed as his father’s reluctant and sorrow filled apology entered his ears.
Shooting the freehand outward, his father pierced his mother’s chest, causing even more flames to burst forth around them. This time, instead of rampaging throughout the room, the flames began swirling into and around his father’s body. Without another word, his father spun around and swung outward with his spear, sending waves of green flames in all directions.
He saw as the four mages all hastily erected thick barriers of their own, barely blocking the barrage of flames in time as it pushed them back toward the walls. On the other hand, the zerakin stepped forward and with a single downward swing of her blade, cleaved the waves of magic that were soaring toward her apart.
His mother cried out as a large fissure crackled throughout her scorched body, emerging from where she had been pierced and running down the side of her torso to her knees.
Screaming in grief, a burst of pure white flames erupted from his mother to coiled around his father, surging into the spear.
“Momma!!” He hollered again as he watched her body go limp and the flames that had been gushing from her sizzle away.
“To go so far as sacrificing yourself for your child… such actions are to be commended.” The zerakin voiced calmly and almost respectfully. Releasing her sword onto the ground, the horned woman reached behind herself and pulled out two shimmering daggers that seem to vibrate and distort the very space around them.
As if having been instructed prior, the other four mages all quickly retreated to the four corners of the audience chamber.
“I apologize for what is being done to you and your family, but his Majesty’s words are absolute.” The zerakin raised her two daggers over her head, crossing them together as they began shining.
With his own weapon in hand, “Aaaahhhhh!!” His father screamed and lunged forth at the horned woman.
Nimbly parrying the spear thrust, the zerakin spun and slashed at his father’s side with one of the daggers. The thick and observable film of mana and flames that were supposed to be protecting his father instantly parted, leaving a streak of red across his father’s torso as the zerakin’s dagger passed.
Not halting his movements, his father dug the spear tip into the ground to catch himself and whipped the weapon backward, hurling it like a bolt of lightning at the horned woman’s head.
The air rumbled between them as the zerakin deftly parried the attack before quickly jumping backwards as an onslaught of translucent spikes shot out at her from the ground.
Forcing his gaze from the battle to his mother, “M-momma…” He cried out for her, his body quivering against his will as the sound of thunderous scraping and clashing rippled tensely through the air around him.
“Momma please…” he begged aloud, but her charred and fractured body remained motionless. Shaking powerlessly, all he could do was stare at her husk as an explosion from behind him shook the room.
Followed by a scream of pain and the splattering of blood onto the floor.
Taken aback, he turned his head only to spot his father standing rigidly beside the horned woman. Behind them both was a large hole in the side of the mana infused wall.
There was no longer a layer of mana swirling around his father nor was there any flames now. From the way they were standing, it appeared as if the zerakin was holding his father’s body upright via the hilt of the single dagger embedded into his father’s back. Though two heads shorter, she was effortlessly supporting his father’s weight.
More blood sprayed down onto the battleworn and disheveled ground.
The armored woman twisted the dagger, drawing even more pained screams.
With swift and skillful maneuvering, she dragged the weapon across flesh and bone before pivoting around to his father’s front, allowing an explosive trail of blood to gush out from his father’s back.
Moving like lightning, her arms shot out and she plunged both daggers into his father’s chest before swiftly yanking one out again.
Without a single word, she stepped back.
As his father fell to the ground, with a final and practiced motion, the woman’s arm flickered naturally across his father’s neck with the knife.
“Noo…” He stared as his father’s prideful body slumped to the ground, falling onto its side to stare back at him.
Unable to look away, he watched as the two silver eyes that had filled him with fear and anxiousness began dimming.
“R-Run…” With a final breath, blood spurted out from his father’s mouth and neck as the light in his father’s eyes died out.
The sound of his own heart was threatening to explode, but his already numb body simply shook as he watched the pool of red liquid continue expanding.
“There is no need for sadness, child.”
The zerakin’s words entered his ears, but all he could hear was the sound of his own heart beating as he blankly stared at the scene before him.
His mother who had sacrificed herself in an attempt to help them escape.
The father who had also given up his life in an attempt to fulfill that sacrifice.
The pounding of his heart grew louder as if fear itself was squeezing at his chest.
“It will be it painless. You shall not suffer.”
The zerakin spoke again, and the sound of armored footsteps slowly approached him.
“Huu… *sniff* mother… father…”
Powerless and unable to do anything for them while they were still alive, instead of running as he had been told, he willed himself once more to reach out for them.
“No… don’t leave me…”
Yet again, his own body would not move.
“Please… please d-*Ba-BUMP!*” don’t leave me alone. He wanted to cry out, but the words were drowned out by his own heartbeats.
They were truly gone just like his brother Rolam and no matter how much he begged or cried, none of them would ever return.
Words ringing with hollow and false compassion descended upon him as he stared at what was before him.
They had both died trying to protect him and soon it would be his turn.
“Unghh!!!” Unable to hold back the fear and anguish, he clutched at his chest as the pain within imploded upon itself.
The zerakin grunted in confusion before him, but he did not care.
His mother’s screams of horror filled his ears instead as he recalled the agony she had endured in her last moments.
No longer able to feel the well of tears that had already dried up within himself earlier that day, “Guh- KguuAAHHHH!!” He cried out loud as the pain she must have felt assaulted him.
“N-?! Wha- what is happening!?”
Someone shouted but their words were swiftly drowned out by his own screams.
“This! this is…?!”
The sound of the zerakin’s surprised voice trembled through the air but it no longer held any impact.
‘The House of AnDargus will never again kneel before those who can do naught, but take from others.’
Two silver eyes manifested in his mind.
No longer an overwhelming coldness of disappointment and scorn, they were filled with sorrow and guilt. Hopeful and tender eyes of love, hidden behind a wall of stoicism and unrivaled expectations.
‘I will die with pride, knowing that I have finally stood up to fight for what is just and what is right.’
Anger. Fear. Joy. Loss. Hate. Love. Sadness. Happiness. REGRET.
Instead of tears, everything that had been suppressed swelled upward.
And he screamed, unable to contain the raging tempest within as something else filled his eyes in place of tears, dyeing the world an unforgiving red.
The zerakin’s shaken voice shook the air, this time sounding like it was struggling to approach.
Ignoring whatever it was that had stained his vision and was now rolling down his face, he forced himself to lift his head up in one last act of defiance. A final show of courage and dignity at having been born a man of his prideful house, and to commit an image of the person who would send him into the eternal dream.
Yet instead of blissful severance and sweet release, there was silence.
Like a statue, the the red knight towered before him. Her posture threatening with arms swinging outward as if to deliver a blow, but forever caught in the ocean of time.
Through the thin slit of her helmet, the zerakin’s piercing blue eyes caught his own and within its cerulean glow, he could see fear and disbelief existing in turmoil.
It was as if something invisible had taken hold of her and she too, was just as surprised as himself.
The day’s incident still intensely fresh on his mind, ‘YOU!’ His devastated innards screamed in anger, willing for her to die. “AAAAAHHHHH!” As he roared in anger.
As if in accordance to his will, with an ungodly wail, the zerakin’s helmet began caving inward into her skull as four other voices screamed out in unison.
A searing pain ripped through his head.
Tearing his eyes away from the gruesome spectacle, the pain whipped him painfully along the left side to his body before surging into his chest.
And he screamed even louder, painfully clutching onto his chest as the sound of metal plates hitting stone resounded around the room.
As swiftly as it came, the pain quickly vanished.
In its place, an unknown darkness was slowly enveloping his mind, voraciously devouring what little strength he still had left.
The audience chamber had mysteriously gone dead silent and with it, all of his senses.