For Victor, hope is…
A flash of melancholy memories that day on the slaver ship when Li gave him that apple. It was delicious as he recalled the taste. That time when he chowed down on the soup Keiko cooked after he was stranded on an unknown beach. The smile on Kiko’s face when she tasted the steak she made from her hard work.
Victor realized that he may be a bit of a glutton, but that doesn’t matter. No matter how desperate and hard or painful that day was. The moment he tasted those delicious meals, a new hope rose inside him, giving him the ability to face another day.
It is a far fetched idea, but it is the only idea he got.
Victor turned his sight at the Priestess, “Would you mind helping me?”
“Not at all, my lord. The coven is ready to serve.”
“Thank you. Let’s go inspire hope.”
Victor stood and walked toward the door.
Two people were enough to achieve the outcome that Victor’s desired. Burst open the kitchen door causing an aromatic smell escaped from the kitchen and traveled across the hallway where it tempted the cravings of every soul in the temple.
Victor and the Priestess served a bountiful lamb broth to each and everyone inside the temple. Every serving he handed came with a nod of forgiveness from Victor so they do not lose their hope and perhaps it can appease their anger in any way. It may affect a few of them, but it was a good start.
“Thank you, Lord. I’m sorry I threw a rock at you,” The child lowered her regretful gaze.
“I know the feeling, be angry at me for all you want, but I promise you that I will make sure that all of you are safe here.”
“Is there anything I can do, Lord? I don’t want to just sit around.”
“Of course there is, go meet with the Priestess in the back. I’m sure she has a couple of tasks for you.”
“Thank you, my lord. I will make sure I do my best.”
“Be sure to finish the broth first, and don’t be afraid to ask for seconds. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
“Again, thank you, my lord.”
Victor continued to hand out a bowl of broth to the people. Even the hardworking priestesses were given a bowl of delicious broth for their non-stop labor. With every person received a hefty serving of broth, Joshua called upon Victor to meet him in the same prayer room as before.
Inside, the Duchess and the Duke sat on their respective seats. Victor was surprised to find them, alive and a bit wounded, especially on the Duchess’s left arm. Those same burns, she must be close to the initial blast when it happened, the same as Joshua.
“I’m sorry to bother you, my lord, but we need to pool our knowledge together so we may begin making plans moving forward. First off, the letters have arrived from the other two cities. Northwall and Coldcliff have begun to evacuate. They will send a couple of ships toward us for our wounded people. However, their military forces are adamant on fighting back the invader.”
“Fight back? Have they lost their mind? Haven’t they read the report? A full force army comes marching down is suicide. They would be incinerated on sight by that weapon alone,” voiced the Duchess with a furrowed brow.
“I think they understood that, but they won’t give up their birthplace so easily. That is why they request assistance from us to guide them and make the necessary preparation for their safe arrival.”
“How many men do we have?” The Duke stroked his double chin.
“Twelve men are ready to serve, but I would say about six men are fully capable of doing so.”
“Six men doing what? We have no military resources for a mission. We have no idea what their numbers are, what kind of weapons they wield, or whatever that thing is that destroyed the city. We cant go weapons blazing into the frying pan,” sighed the Duchess.
“How about a quick recon mission?” spoke up Victor from where he sat.
“Excuse me, Lord? You can’t be serious about sending our men back there after what they have been through?”
“We have too. We need more information. If our army is willing to fight then there is no point in stopping them.”
“Lord, that would mean you are sending them to their death.”
“Not if we have more information on our enemy. We need to be prepared and come up with a new way of fighting them and we can’t do it so without?”
“Without intel. I know. However, I’m afraid that we are wasting our effort here. Shouldn’t we focus on getting what is left of our people to safety?”
“The Duchess is correct, taking force from our strain manpower would leave us unprotected,” Joshua agreed with her.
“That's why I need only one, possibly two men if you can spare any of them. I will be going with them.”
“You? Lord, excuse me, but your suggested recon mission isn’t just a stride down a garden. You would be risking your life.”
“Trust me, Duchess. Years of exile weren’t as forgiving as you thought it would be. I can take care of my own.”
“I will be going with you,” Joshua stood from where he sat.
“You too, Joshua?” A mad glare cast from the Duchess to the Commander. “No. Two high command personnel cannot just risk their life because of some glory-seeking desire. I forbid it.” The Duchess wore an unmovable frown on her face.
“I need to see the weapon myself, assess it with my own eyes. I’m sorry, Lord. I trust you with my life, but I don’t trust your eyes alone.”
“He’s right, Duchess.”
“Duke, not you too?”
“The Commander makes a good point. The King may protect himself, but he doesn’t have the military knowledge our Commander has.”
“Noah, I’m going to be fine. I promise you, I will run back home as soon as any trouble appears.”
“But, Joshua, I already lost so much. I can’t lose you, I don’t know what I will do if it happens.”
Joshua kneeled in front of Noah. He placed his hands onto hers then proceeded to peer into her golden eyes, “You won’t.”
“I cannot stop you, can I?”
“Of course, you can. If you desire me to stay, then I will.”
“That would be foolish of me. As much I hate it, the Duke is right. I must bury my desire and not let it overwhelm my decision. Go. Go with our king.”
“Thank you, Noah.” Joshua stood and gestured to Victor to follow him.
Victor followed Joshua out of the room where an optimistic soldier waited for them.
“He will be coming with us, Lord.”
“At your service, Lord.” Isaac grabbed a hefty pack.
“It’s good to see you, Isaac, but you need to leave that pack behind.”
“But, it’s our important supplies, Lord?”
“Then take as little as you can, we need to move fast and light.”
“He’s right Isaac, take your armor off. Wear something thick enough for cold but not enough to weigh you down.”
“Okay, sir.” Isaac ran off to change and poured out the unnecessary item from his pack.
“I prepare two horses for our mission. You will have one while Isaac will be riding with me.”
A priestess brought out two pairs of fur jackets for both of them. Victor and Joshua nodded at the Priestess as thanks before proceeded to go outside.
They left the damp temple and were greeted by a shivering breeze. White and white, everywhere he sees. Snows had covered the landscape neatly from the tree to a pebble, nothing was left untouched by the snow. This sight alone brought some familiar feelings for Victor. This was his birthplace, the cold, the snow, the frozen dirt, finally, he felt like home. Victor squatted down and scooped a fist full of snow.
“There’s no place in this realm where it is so cold that your snot froze solid.”
“I couldn't agree more. You seem more...calmer?”
“I will take that as a compliment. To tell you the truth, I’m barely holding it at bay.”
Isaac pops out from the entrance. Suddenly, he stumbled back when a snowball hit his face. Victor contained his laughter as Joshua let out a smile from the side. Stunned, but not anger, only a bit shocked. Isaac brushed the snow off his face and saw the glee on Victor’s face. He smiled back and tossed a snowball of his own at Victor.
“I deserved that.”
“Let’s go, we need to move.” Joshua climbed on his horse and extended his hand to Isaac.
Victor hid his grimace as another headache hit. Isaac tilted his head at him, but Victor just smiled and waved off his worries.
Isaac rode behind Joshua while Victor climbed on his horse. With a whip, Joshua’s horse neighed before galloping down the trail, Victor followed closely. They turned left to right, making a swirl down an unmarked path. Sooner or later, the temple disappeared behind them. Nothing but a sea of snow and dead trees, a mile out from where they rode.
It was a long time ago when civil war had ravaged Frozehaven. However, this moment doesn’t take place at Frozehaven. It took place at Ghadah where the land was shattered into a dozen islands, separated only by a body of water.
On one of the islands stood the capital city of Ghadah: Yashtun. A city of opportunity, trade, and a free market. Almost anything can be sold or bought from the market of Yashtun. A boiling pot of cultural diversity and different races.
Well, it used to be those things, but since the last Sultan died and a new one replaced him. It safe to say that everything deteriorated over time if left unmaintained
The new ruling brought a more strict regiment on Yashtun, but not just the capital city, everywhere around Ghadah. The new Sultan ruled with an iron fist and tyranny, for he had tasted power and was willing to obtain more.
In the slums of Yashtun, a dark-skinned boy was running for his life. Two common guards were chasing after him because this boy had stolen a giant loaf of bread. However, to the people of Yashtun, this kind of event had become a common sight for locals. Undeterred by the commotion, the passerby continued like it was nothing.
The boy snugs the loaf underneath his armpit as he climbed the ladder leading to the roof.
Glancing behind him, the guard was close on his trail. He took off into a sprint. Jumping across rooftops. Still one of the guards was persistent on capturing him until the boy’s foot snug under a beam. His face planted against the hard brick roof causing him to let go of the loaf.
The guard caught up to him and heaved his breath over him with a glare and frown on his face. The boy suddenly laughed aloud.
“Today. Today, I finally caught you, bastard of a child.”
“I may be a bastard, but you still haven't caught me yet.”
“Are you blind? There is no escape.”
“Sure there is. Look under you.”
The guard looked down with widened eyes. The boy kicked the latch in front of his leg and the trap door underneath the guard broke open. The man screamed his rage out as he fell onto the stack of carpet below. The boy stood again, creating a good distance between the leap and the launch point. He took off into a run before jumping off onto the other roof before the other guards could ever catch up to him.
However, the jump was short-lived when he fell against the silk canopy. Due to his luck, instead of falling through, It bounced him safely onto the alley below. He then continued running down the alley with a bright smile on his face.
“Another day, another struggle to stay alive.”
“A struggle? Hardly.” Out from the shade of dark, a chocolate woman, dressed lavishly came out with an aromatic fragrance lingered from the woman. The boy turned his head with a smirk.
“Aburah? Or should I call you, Princess Aburah? Or soon to be Sultana of Ghadah?”
“You can call me: her majesty. Anything less isn’t suffice.”
“As if I would call you that, big sister?”
“Yusof, come here, you little scat!”
The boy rushed in for her embrace. It was warm, tight even, tighter than their usual hug. A single tear dripped down Aburah’s cheek as she held him in her arms. They broke off each other and the woman patted the boy’s head with a giant gleeful smile.
“It has been a while.”
“I thought you had forgotten about us.”
“How’s the royalty life has been treating you?”
“You know, delicious food, comfy bed, servants tending your every needs your eyes can see.”
“If I’m not mistaken, you are bragging so arrogantly right now.”
“Not at all.” The sarcasm dripped from her words.
“I do not care about your extravagance. I only care about my loaf here. It’s the only treasure I need right now.”
“That dirty bread is your treasure? Ohohoho.”
“Of course. Who doesn't want a dirty bread?”
Yusof smiled as he took a seat on the crate near him. With his fingers, he tore a piece for Aburah and gifted her a slice. They took the piece and bit down on it. It was stale but soft, and at the same time, it was the most delicious thing they ever tasted. It could be nostalgia, but it was certainly something else.
“Where’s your twin?”
“At the docks, dreaming only of the seas. As always.”
“I hope he’s fine.”
“He is. He got a job there. A small job, but at least he’s happy. I still can't believe you got called into the palace after one of our step sisters croaked. Hey, if you are so happy there with your food, bed, and servant, why did you come back to see me?”
“I don't know if you will believe me or not, but truth be told, our step sisters and brothers are killing each other in there.”
“Why am I not surprised? Every one of them wanted power, so I wouldn't blame them. Our father is mostly responsible for it with his seed flung all over the place. That man couldn't keep his nut to himself.”
“He’s a dick, sure, and no one ever genuinely likes him, but at least, I got the opportunity to achieve my dream.”
“You still dream of that world peace of yours?”
“Of course, I will do anything to achieve it, and I mean anything: lie, cheat, betray, nothing is sacred to me. A necessary evil is a small price to pay for lasting peace in this world.”
“Not quite the virtuous world peace, I thought of getting. However, if you ever did achieve it, I am willing to cast my freedom away and serve under you.”
“Serve under me?”
“Yeah, who doesn't want a ruler like you?”
“Sweet thought, but I doubt you would abandon all of this to live in a stuffed palace...”
“Hey.” Yusof stared into her eyes. Aburah recognized the seriousness of his little brother’s gaze. “I would do it in a heartbeat, so stay alive out there, okay? I believe in you.”
Aburah pulled Yusof closer for another tight embrace. However, never had he thought that today was going to be the last day he got to see her.
Over the hill, a devastated city laid ruined by a massive explosion. Only a few lucky buildings stood, but still suffered tremendous damage to their structure. However, it's a relief that the gigantic tree of gold was unharmed by it.
A glimpse under his arms revealed several black spots, but there was none near his right hand. Yet, a throbbing sensation plagued his hand ever since he left the temple. As he looked closer, a sort of blue hue ran down his veins, but after he shook his head and looked again, the blue hue was gone.
"Lord, it seems we have good news. They made camp near the dock," said Joshua as he looked through the spyglass.
They hid behind the border of the white plain that separated the city and the dead forest. Behind one of those shrubberies, laid Victor, Isaac, and Joshua with their chest against the snow. Even though the sky had turned dark, they were still able to scout the land ahead, judging only by the campfire the enemy had ignited.
"I don't understand, sir, shouldn't it be bad news that they have a foothold over our territory?"
"It's good news because of that weapon."
Floated in the middle of the cape, a giant steel cannon lifted by four galleons readied to be fire imposed a threatening presence over the city. More than a dozen enemy battleships guard the cape tightly.
"They can't use it or risk eliminating their force, but we can’t get near it also."
"How about a downhill attack from where the dead forest is thick? The foliage is enough to cover our forces from being seen and easy for them to launch a surprise attack."
"It's a good idea, but the moment they see our men charged, they are going to use that weapon to destroy that hill in an instant, along with their so-called rifles, those weapons could tear through our men easily."
"So we need a distraction."
"You mean a suicide mission."
Joshua turned his gaze at the darkened sky. He felt the air becoming moist while a chill ran down his spine.
“There’s a storm coming for the city, but for us, away from the tree’s protection: a blizzard. We must gather as much information we can and move out.”
"Sir, it seems a few of our people are still down there."
"Where?" Victor turned his gaze over the twenty cages, packed with people of different races, but he saw none of his people.
"They are not a part of our people. As matter of fact, they are far from that. They could be tourists and refuge, but no sign of our people. So it’s true, they mean to wipe us from this realm. "
"How could they massacre our women and children just like that?" Fueled by his anger, Isaac slammed his fist against the snow.
"Calm, yourself, Isaac. Our people from Coldcliff and Northwall did manage to escape. There's still hope."
“It couldn't be?” muttered Victor as he squinted his eyes through the spyglass.
“What’s the matter, my lord?”
“Kiko.” A dark-skinned young girl was dragged by two men and escorted by another three men. She was heavily bruised to the point where the black and blue covered her entire body. However, the shredded armor on two of the soldiers told Victor that she didn't give herself up without a fight.
“Lord?” Joshua snapped Victor back to reality.
“I need to save her.”
“That little girl?”
“No lord, sacrificing your life for another? I could not allow it.” Isaac took hold of Victor's arm, stopping him from rushing down the hill.
“My life doesn't matter, I need to go down there.”
“You are the King! Remembered that. Ugh, we are not stopping you, my lord, but we need you to be calm as we tried to think of a plan to get her to safety without losing you.” Joshua sighed as he looked through the spyglass again.