The day grew to a close, the winter chill rested upon the kingdom. Ike and Celadria walked with each other along a narrow forest path hand in hand. They wanted to get away from the stress of the upcoming war and explore Nethatar together. Ike found very little time to be with her, so he wanted to make up for it by showing her the world.
She was so beautiful with the white snow framing her complexion. She returned eye contact with confidence and complete love. Ike didn't think he'd ever be able to live without her.
"Ike," She began fondly, "Will we ever go back home to Felminair? I'd like to be with our loved ones when we marry."
Taken by surprise, Ike looked down at her, "When we marry?"
She laughed at his uncertainty, squeezed his hand tighter. "There's no need to be so afraid of it. We love each other, don't we?"
"Of course we do, I do." He began to smile.
"And we plan on being together for a while, right?"
"I'm not letting you go anywhere." They stopped to face each other. He wrapped his arms around her waist. She touched his face with the palm of her hand.
"Then I want to marry you. I want to be in your life and raise children with you. Is that too much to ask?" Celadria stroked his jaw lovingly, traced his lips with her fingertips. Ike felt a pulling in his heart, a yearning to lay her down and smother her white face in gentle kisses.
He brushed his hand through her long, caramel colored hair, "I promise you when this is over we will ride back to Felminair and greet our fathers with wonderful news of our eternity together. I will find you the most astounding of jewels to wear around your neck. I will love you and cherish our time together and—"
Giggling, Celadria interrupted his speech with a warm kiss that continued to grow warmer still. When they finally broke the kiss, Celadria said, "I cannot think heavily on the upcoming battle. I can only see us together. The gods would be cruel to take away our love."
Cruel they were; those apparent gods who found enjoyment in the heart-wrenching severing of their lives.
Ike lost himself in memories while he was doomed to rot in the prison cell. He dreamed of her every time he fell into sleep. Her gold-flecked eyes constantly watched him, he thought. He often pictured how their lives would have been if she had lived. He would have kept his promise to her. He imagined Felminair, saw children running about an antique cottage. He saw Celadria over and over in his mind.
Oft times, however, he relived the agony of discovering her mangled and bloody corpse in a broken barrel of straw. He was tormented by every gruesome detail he noticed that night, like how she still had a pained and scared face even after death.
Ike had kept the golden locket he had given her a few years ago. He hoped it would bring him consolation, but it only brought nightmares.
He missed her so much. He just couldn't live without her.
The guards brought food to them once a day. Ike had tried to starve himself to death, but when he was on the edge of starvation, he forced himself to eat the stale food, realizing belatedly that he was still here for a purpose.
His friends would need him if they ever managed to breakout.
Ike also had the feeling that Syrusses had succeeded, and that his race was more or less extinct by now.
He was the only one left.
Wagons rolled in from the North, all eyes greedily taking in the new target. The survivors didn't do much, but it seemed they had discovered food and steaming water from the forest. None of them looked happy, most were sad or confused.
Ilessa sat in the back of a hooded wagon with her black cloak wrapped tightly around her. It wasn't cold—far from it. She, as well as every other soldier, had to blend into the night so no one suspected them. Their biggest ally was the element of surprise.
"Call the order when it best suits you," Aimer, her second commander, mumbled through his hood. A soldier who spoke through his cloak so as to filter the air was no strong soldier, but at this point, Ilessa didn't care. She was tired of inhaling smoky air too.
Her main concern was the lack of men due to a growing rivalry between two branches of the Lord Syrusses's army. The other was led by General Liam, a man who was said to have been there when Syrusses conquered the Sword of Life and Changed the world. It was only fitting that this man would take control of the highly trained group of successful warriors. They were veterans from the war on Wvern and the Great Battle of Freedom, as well as gifted men who managed to slaughter hundreds of enemies with their powers.
Tempest and Ilessa led the misfit soldiers who weren't quite reaching of the high standards set by Liam and his men. They were in charge of basic trainings and smaller Hunts within explored territory of Curzonin. They were the city guard, law enforcers, and prison guards while they didn't have an assignment elsewhere. The excessive jobs put a lot of wear on the leaders, as well as provoke violence amongst the soldiers themselves.
Ultimately, it led to the affectionate nickname "flesh eaters" because her soldiers were reportedly uncontrollable blood thirsty raiders with a disgrace worse than a swine's.
Tempest had asked Ilessa the question so many times before, but as always, Ilessa had no answer as to why a group of violent raiders needed practice raiding. She felt as though they did spectacular jobs, but one of the victims usually gets away, or Liam points out the casualties they suffered as a group. Their reputation barely touched expectation.
Days ago, however, the lord himself sent a message to Ilessa stating his uncertainties about the northern ruins that once belonged to the kingdom of Nethatar. Liam's group of elites hadn't once stepped foot there. It was an honor for Ilessa to get this new assignment.
As exciting as a new job would be, though, raids and money no longer interested her. As time wore on, she began to see things she otherwise would have ignored if it hadn't been for the new import of soldiers who questioned everything.
This night was no different from the last raids. The smoke provided excellent coverage in the dark. Their horses were silent, painted black, and ready to ride. The acrid taste of pollution in their mouths began to taste sweeter as money and success rang through their heads. Ilessa knew how it felt. She had been new once. She fought her first battle under the pressure and excitement.
Now Ilessa just watched them, pitied them. If only their actions would affect the soldiers in their short term lives.
Ilessa finally brought up two fingers and signaled them to go. As they kicked their horses and wagons into gear, a loud roar of battle lust erupted from the attackers.
A few seconds after them, the first victim of the night screamed for her children.
"…fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…" He paused during his count, lost track of the number, then restarted from stone one again.
He counted the stones in his cell several times a day, aware that if he let his mind wander, he would delve into deep thoughts that would do nothing for him but cause physical and emotional pain. He knew no other pastime except lifting himself up to the small window high in the wall and watch the strange clouds float in odd shapes and patters.
The problem is with so much time on his hands, thinking was inevitable.
Cyran noticed that most of the time the valley resembled a burning forest fire. He often dreamed that it finally got close enough to burn him alive while trapped in the cell.
The dreams often felt reassuring, because he wanted the prison life to end. There was one person in mind who influenced him to think of the fires as nightmares, however. As far as he knew, he had one last hope to find Mykensi if something in the daily routine changed. He couldn't' depend on the destruction of his life to help her, nor Vailor for that case, which oddly sparked regret and anger in him.
Regret that he didn't claim Mykensi before Vailor decided he could win her heart, and anger because Cyran was envious of what Vailor had with her, and that he couldn't have that for himself. He cursed himself every day that he deliberately pushed her away, even when he wanted to draw her near so badly.
These lost feelings, however, reminded Cyran that he couldn't dwell on the depth of his thoughts, otherwise he too would become as lost as his emotions.
One thing he let himself muse on was the last and final confrontation with his brothers. What would he say? More importantly, who would live and who would die?
Cyran thought back to year ago when Syrusses had left home and Cyran chased after him. He had to give Mykensi a quick and painful goodbye, avoid questioning eyes, and steal off into the night with little more than a few coins to his name.
Syrusses led him on a wild duck-hunt. He was only fifteen, encountering different kinds of people everywhere he turned. While his brother developed his cult, Cyran searched for any possibilities that would end Syrusses's madness.
Cyran found very few ideas in his travels. He had met many friends. He discovered the Protector's Alliance, a group that was founded by a Palestralean called Iknioss. The purpose was to grant Humans without gifts a talent and assign that human to protect nobles, innocents, kings, and significant people. It was through that organization that he discovered his first clue as to what Syrusses was doing, but it was a gruesome and treacherous discovery. Cyran couldn't quite believe that it was possible, let alone that his brother's ethical beliefs allowed him to act upon it.
Rumors of missing people floated through the network of protectors. Every day one of their own powerful friends would disappear into the night. Most said that they went rogue and went looking for more power or other way to keep their gifts without committing to the protection of others. Cyran discovered that it was Syrusses who was taking them away from their assignments. After they agreed to go in, they never came back out.
One woman on the force, her name Isabelle, reported back to headquarters after she had been offered a mysterious contract by Syrusses. After that, Cyran found out just what it was Syrusses was doing.
He persuaded protectors to sign his contracts, and when they did, he would practice a dark magic that extracted Iknoiss's spell and instead gave it to himself.
The catch was, however, that he had to keep the protectors he stole from alive. Otherwise the gift's magic would fail after being disconnected from the one it was bestowed upon.
After learning this, Cyran had Isabelle lead him to Syrusses's base of operations. He scoped the place, watched he careful construction of an underground dungeon.
Syrusses claimed more power than any man on the planet. He cheated the nature of life, and he cheated the sword's magic.
Cyran's first confrontation with his brother after four years of searching was much less hostile than how it has been recently. Syrusses tried to convince Cyran to think about what was being done. He tried to persuade Cyran into coming with him and joining Syrusses's cause to make the world better and try to fix that which has happened four years previous. Cyran had no idea how to feel about it. He was left lone to think, but upon listening to the voices of others in that mansion, he discovered the captivity of Mykensi's brother.
Cyran would have accepted Syrusses's offer. He was so close to having helped cause such destruction in the world. It was Mykensi who kept him from embracing the comforting idea of avenging his mother's death.
And now, he was in a prison cell, waiting for the day when Syrusses's sanity has finally broken and he decides to kill the only family he has left.
Unless Cyran could find a way to break out of the cell, face his brother, and get Mykensi away from his grasp, he had no chance.
Men, women, and even children were separated into groups and herded into wagons. They complained, stuck their arms through the iron bars. In the distant fields, handmade shacks burned and crackled, crunchy grass was ripped up in clumps along the ground. Food was raided and eaten, the water stolen and divided between soldiers. There was a mess left behind, as well as a doomed curse to forever haunt these lands.
Blood was spilt. Only three men had fought back in fear they would never see their families again, and for that, they lost not only their families, but their lives as well.
Ilessa walked through the barren village, trying not to hear the odd moans of a woman crying for her lost child. She smelled the smoke from the aftermath, as well as the pollution in the air. She noticed that what might have been left of any vegetation or hidden life was killed. It didn't please her. In fact, it frightened her.
She turned back to her troops and witnessed a man break free from a soldier's grip. He tried to make a run for it.
Aimer and another man tackled the runaway villager to the ground. They battled and fought for control over the other, all the while the man screaming, "Your king ruined out lands, killed our crops, and murdered millions! He should die! He should be locked up!"
A hand touched Ilessa's shoulder, jerking her out of the frozen shock. She flinched away and slowly approached the struggling man, her boots clicked as eat step touched the earth. Fabric and armor stretching a bit, she crouched so she could nearly be eye level with him.
"Do you know the punishment for speaking such foul words about our Lord?" She had to tread lightly, watch what she said. Her men would betray her in a minute if she showed him sympathy, or if she happened to agree with him. She had to keep the authority and the fairness, even if she didn't want to.
The man began to shake. She could see inside his blue eyes not fear, but hate, anger, disloyalty and distrust. It pained her to say so, it was the worst part of the job, "Death penalty."
Soldiers lifted the man by the crooks of his arms. Blabbering, choking on his fear, the man was strapped securely to the bars of a wagon in front of the other men.
Normally many soldiers would volunteer to carry out the execution, but this time the crowd was silent to Ilessa's dismay. She would have to kill him. Show no fear; show no weakness.
Ilessa sensed her soldiers were still in shock that this man was brave enough to even consider escape. No one moved for a long moment, worried and frightened gazes passed amongst the captives.
"My bow, Aimer," Ilessa commanded. "I'll be needing it."
The commander brought her bow and took several steps back, as her touch would be poisonous.
"Please don't do this! My wife, my child needs me!" He begged with his eyes, staring Ilessa down.
She had done this so many times. She knew how it felt. She was usually impervious to their pleas. Even if she gave in, she couldn't let him go. The soldiers would have her head. Ilessa stretched the bow string, took her time picking and arrow. She was stalling while her comrades thought she was dragging out the suffering for the man.
Too quickly she had her arrow pointed at his heart. She pulled back, tensed her muscles. Her fingers began to relax, ever so slowly let the arrow go…
Ilessa jerked the arrow to a last minute target, nailed one of her own men in the foot. He cried out in pain, men started babbling in confusion.
Aimer jammed the kid in the belly with his fist and approached Ilessa with a stern look in his eye. "What—"
"Take it." Ilessa shoved her bow into Aimer's chest and stormed away to the wagons. From the outer circle, she let Aimer knock the arrow and drive it through the victim's heart like some animal being Hunted.
She felt a numbing in her fingertips, as well as a ringing in her ears. No one she knew of had ever quit on an execution like that. Her job would be ruined. Aimer and Tempest would cast her out. Liam would laugh and jeer and torment her forever in her dreams.
Ilessa rushed to her horse while men helped to detach the body from the wagons. She vaulted her horse, kicked, sped into action.
I have to find Tempest. I need to help Mykensi…