Victor ran as fast as he could until a cry of help halted him. He turned his attention to the source then glanced back at the path in front of him. With gritted teeth, he lowered his gaze at the ground, a short rope lay beside his feet. Without a second doubt, he grabbed it then flung it over his shoulder before rushing toward the cry.
Arriving in the alley, Victor was shocked to find Isaac cornered by three enemy soldiers. He unsheathed his sword. With a single swing, he cut one of them down. Panicked by their fallen ally, the enemies turned their rifles at Victor, but it was too late as Victor rushed in to push the barrel upward before the black powder ignited. A loud boom echoed out in the sky, they missed their shot and fear donned upon their face as Isaac took the chance to drive his sword through the enemy’s back.
Victor let go of his sword fall to the ground. Using the rope, he wrapped it around the rifle and the enemy's neck. He then pushed the soldier to the ground then tossed the end of the rope over a broken beam above them. The look of fear on his face was etched forever when Victor pulled the rope with all his weight.
Choked by the rope, the soldier’s body dangled a foot high from the ground. The soldier struggled as much as he could but it was pointless. Slowly the soldier became limp as his face turned pale.
When the soldier stopped struggling, only then did Victor let go of the rope and lay on the ground, exhausted. The enemy soldier’s body dropped to the ground with a loud thump. Victor let out a sigh of relief, but it was too early to celebrate. In the corner of his eyes, another enemy emerged from the broken building, his barrel aimed at Isaac.
Isaac was unaware of the danger and any sudden movement from him may set the enemy off. In a single continuous movement, Victor grabbed his sword and rushed to push Isaac away. The shot misses its target causing the enemy to panic.
Tightening his grip, Victor pulled the sword back like a spear and launched it. It flew across the landscape and buried itself inside the enemy’s neck. Blood gushed down his neck, his arms wailing at the sword before dropping down.
Another ballistic discharge pierced between Victor’s left arm and shoulder causing him to drop his knee. Pain shook up all over his body, but Victor still stood, roaring his furious anger. He turned to the source and another enemy can be seen hiding behind a crate. With a deadly glare, Victor walked toward him and he could see the fear in his enemy’s eyes.
He quickly reloaded and fired again, but this time his aim was too obvious. Victor simply leaned to the left and missed the bullet.
The enemy tried to reload again.
However, it was too late, Victor was upon him like a beast upon its prey. An ooze of blood dripped across his face, bulging eyes, one reddened with blood while the other still retained its original color.
Absolute fear, the enemy quickly dropped his rifle and tried to escape. Such a pointless act, Victor grabbed the back of his enemy’s collar and forced his back against the rough ground. Using his feet, Victor planted it into the enemy’s skull, crushing it in one stomp and causing a mountain of blood to splatter across his face.
Another enemy is taken care of.
As he turned, a dry cough plagued him causing him to drop onto one knee. The pain from his left shoulder jolted like fireworks. He gritted his teeth and tried to stand up, but almost stumbled down. Isaac saw his savior was in pain so he quickly took his right side and helped him to stand.
A burst of air escaped Victor's lungs, all that heaving caused Victor to cough loudly before turning his gaze at Isaac. Eventually, Victor can’t keep himself awake, he lost consciousness against Isaac's chest. The young knight glanced around him, wondering what to do next. The only reasonable action was to get out of there. So he lifted Victor and carried him toward safety.
Victor groggily woke to the sounds of people coughing. His eyes were greeted by a mossy ceiling and the pungent smell of bitter herbs. With his hand, he was surprised to find his wound was carefully bandaged and treated.
Coughing and groaning, Victor rose and sat at the edge of the bed. The room around him was littered with molded benches and rusted candlelights. A group of soldiers and knights scattered inside the room. Priestesses in white robes and stained by red jogged around with a bundle of bandages in their arms.
“Where am I?”
“An old temple, sir.” Isaac stood beside him with a rolled-up sleeve and a bucket of clean water. “I know it against your wishes sir, but I had to bring you here. You are in no condition to go into battle and we can't afford to lose our last hope.”
Victor noticed the admiration in his eyes and it pained him to tell Isaac that he was running away. “It’s okay, Isaac...I understand. who are they?”
“Priestess from a nearby temple. They were unharmed by the blast so they came to help.”
“We can't stay here. They will find us.”
“Don’t worry, sir. This place is safe, it isn't on any map and was abandoned a long time ago. Only the local elder knew of this place.”
“Who told you to come here?”
“That would be me.” Joshua appeared beside him. Victor was shocked to find half his face was covered in a roll of bandage, and a sign of burn was visible underneath it.
“Joshua? Your grandfather…” Victor lowered his gaze.
When Victor raised his gaze to meet Joshua, he glanced away before directing it back at Victor. With a heavy heart, Victor poured out the words, “He fought to the last end along with my father. He gave his life so our people had a chance to escape.”
“Courageous to the end as expected from my grandfather. Then it’s true, I'm the last of the Slater, and so do you. The last of the Lawson. Our last king.”
Victor turned to Isaac and back to the Commander. “Joshua…I need to talk to you in private.”
“There’s a prayer room nearby, Isaac, do you mind helping our king?”
“There’s no need, I can walk.” Victor forced himself to stand through the pain, he nodded at Isaac before Joshua led the way.
They exited the room into another adjacent hall. Numerous glare was directed at Victor as he walked. He tried to ignore it, for it may just be in his mind, playing little tricks. He did survive an explosion earlier so it must have had some effect on his mental state.
However, his paranoia was answered when a small stone struck his head, leaving a small cut. With widened eyes, he turned to find a young boy, draped with black smudge all over his body. Seething glare and gritted teeth, this young boy was angry at him.
“My father died because of you! Because you came back!”
A woman stood and threw another rock at Victor. It hit Victor's in the shoulder. “You are not The Exiled Prince. You are The Cursed Prince! Who brought only death and destruction to wherever you go! Why can't you just leave us alone?!”
“Leave! Leave! Leave!” A chant amongst the common folk echoed in the room, from sick to young. Victor felt the hatred and anger seething from their hearts, and it was too much because he knew it was his fault. Victor's legs almost gave up under him, but Joshua intervened.
“But, Commander, he is?”
“Now is not the time to fight among ourselves. Now is the time to help each other, many of you are injured and in a great deal of pain. Divert your energy to help them, not cause a ruckus in our holy temple.”
The common folk was shocked by the scolding Joshua gave to them. Slowly, they released the rock in their hands and turned to their brethren and sisters. Soon, they started to help each other instead of wailing their anger at Victor.
Joshua turned to Victor, nodding him to follow and he did. They entered a small prayer room with a small cauldron of fire still burning. Joshua closed the door behind them as Victor took a seat on the stool nearest to him. The heat from the fire was a luxury against the coldness he endured. Joshua took a seat near Victor and let out a painful cough.
“Are you okay?”
“None of us are. Six knights, four soldiers, two guards, four civilian men, three civilian women, and five children. A total of twenty-four people in this temple and most of them are injured and sick.”
“Yes, lord. A strange sickness had plagued us, and it seemed to affect those who survived the devastation. For now, it’s the light headache, cough, and strange black spots under the forearms. It could be deadly as far as we know, the entire coven is working tirelessly, but to no end, they can’t find a way to cure it or estimate the amount of damage this sickness will bring. However to some degree, there is good news, the sickness is not infectious, and our food supplies are doing well at the moment, but it won't last long.”
Victor gritted his teeth as he clenched his hands together. “It’s too much.”
“Excuse me, sir? I didn't catch that.”
“It’s too much! The death, the sickness, the hatred, and the weight of it all.” Tears dripped down his face.
“Too much? For you to say such things. You disappoint me, my lord, truly."
"What can I do? I'm only one man."
"You are not one man, you are not a man, you are a King. Everyone is gone, my lord. The King, The Queen, The Young Prince, only you remained."
"You think I don't know that?! I lost everyone, not just my family, my friends, comrades, every single soul I cared about...and I can't even go back to give them a proper burial."
"Stop wallowing in the dead. There are still the livings, and they are your and my responsibility. We must get them to safety, but to do that, you need to take the mantle. Give them hope."
"Hope? Haven't you noticed? We just lost the war. That horrifying weapon, we can't do anything about it."
"Lost the war? We can afford it, but lose our people? No. Our enemy doesn't seek to conquer…they seek to eradicate us. The people, your people are counting on you, my king, and I'm here to help, but you need to inspire hope."
"Don't you understand? I can't do that. I don't know how to do that. Besides the people hate me, I'm the bane of their existence, a curse they wish to exile."
"Don't look upon the shallow surface, dig deeper, inside their hearts. They do not hate you, they feel betrayed, and they want to be proved wrong because The Lawson, good or bad, has always tried to make up for their mistake, and never stop doing so. At the end of the day, The Lawson always put the people ahead of them, and I truly believe that."
"Why can't you do it?"
"I am… through you, because you are my hope, my king." Joshua stood up and turned to the door, he was about to walk out but stop himself for a glance.
"I've sent letters to Coldcliff and Northwall to abandon their homes and set sail far away from here. No fortress can withstand that weapon, so they should leave their home behind or suffer the same fate as ours. As for you, my lord, I will send a priestess in here."
"To pray, my lord. We need our goddess protection more than ever."
Joshua left the room, leaving Victor to his thoughts. Leave a man and enter a woman draped in a proper robe. She nodded her head before seating at where Joshua sat and placed her hands on Victor’s. Her hands were gentle, forgiving, welcoming, and most of all, caring for my soul.
“How long has it been, Lord, since you last prayed?”
“Too long, Priestess.”
“Then if you wouldn't mind, please share with me your worries.”
“I am scared. I’m scared. With a blink of an eye, there was nothing but blinding light then came…” Victor’s hand trembled underneath her hand. He removed it and clenched it with his other hand,
“I thought I was dead, and I wish I was. The screamings and the crack of cannon fire was just the icing on a bleeding cake. It was horrifying. Gabriella? I held her in my arms. Her eyes filled with broken glasses. She was barely breathing. Impaled by a broken beam. Years of training and battles, and I still couldn't do anything. She was smiling, and I don't know why.”
“My father and his men were something else. They did not feel despair. He fought to the last end like the King he was. I had always hated him. He was a terrible father, but he was a good king, unlike me. I failed him. I failed everyone.”
“Lord, I do not believe you failed anyone.”
A chuckle escaped Victor's lips.
“I ran! I ran… I was so damn scared that I ran. I have forsaken everyone that I ever cared about, my mom, my dad, my little brother, Kiko, Li, Haruhi, Kenn, Yemen. Every one of them, whether dead or alive, I shunned their trust and ran away because I was terrified. You said otherwise, but I knew what I did. I failed them.”
Victor warped his arm around himself, shivering and trembling as he sobs. The Priestess leaned in and embraced the man, who had failed everyone. However, to her eyes, she did not see the failure, she only saw a man in pain, trying his best to make sense of what just happened.
“Praise Gidona as she created fire from the abyss. For she wielded that fire to create the world and us. From the same fire, she gifted us with a tool of warmth and protection. She is capable of things that our minds can't comprehend. For she is light and fire. Yet, forgiveness is one of those things. She forgives you as she forgives all life: and welcomes you into her embrace. Only if you repent now and mend your way. For she is not only light and fire, but she is also hope.”
“May she guide you to your destiny.”
Victor leaned away and wiped the snot and tears from his face.
“I need to inspire hope. How am I supposed to do that? When I, myself, wallowed in despair. ”
“What is hope for you, lord?”
“Hope?” muttered Victor as he pondered upon the word.