Chapter 488: The Sword & Shield
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Chapter 488: The Sword & Shield

 

  The soft chirping of birds and a cool breeze swaying his hair into his eyes woke Gian up. The soft prickliness of grass tickled his neck. Gian slowly sat up. The sun was shining down from the bright blue skies.

  “W-When… did I…?” his voice trailed off.

  He glanced at his smooth palms and stubby fingers. These hands were too small to be his. They were the hands of a child who had yet to see his teenage years. He quickly touched his face and felt his smooth cheeks. Gone was his salt-and-pepper beard.

  “Oh shit!” He jumped to his feet in shock.

  When had he…? None of this made sense. He was standing under the yew tree in the manor’s gardens as usual, but this wasn’t his body, at least, it hadn’t been for close to 300 years.

  “How did I get here?” he muttered. The last thing he remembered was…

  Gian frowned. What was the last thing he remembered?

  He stared at the Gale manor in the distance. Had he come from his rooms? The training courtyard? The dining hall? He wasn’t certain.

  “Are you waiting for someone?” a friendly voice asked.

  Gian stiffened and he slowly turned around. A young woman in black garments and a scarlet cloak stood next to the yew tree, resting her shoulder on its bark. Her stray white strands of hair blew in the wind and blue lips curled in a smirk, eyebrow raised. Deep purple eyes stared at him with a glint of mirth.

  His chest tightened at the sight and a lump grew in his throat.

  “I wasn’t sure if I should say something or just wait until you noticed me—” her voice cut off as Gian rushed her in a tight embrace.

  He closed his eyes and breathed in her familiar scent. His little shoulders trembled and tears slipped down his pale cheeks.

  Stryga smiled softly and wrapped her arms around him, “Hello, Gigi.”

  “You’re here, you’re really here,” he whimpered.

  Her smile grew sad. “I am,” she whispered. 

  He didn’t care if this was a dream or some illusion of his mind. His sister had returned to him and that was all that mattered.

  “I promised you I’d meet you under this tree,” said Stryga. “Even in death I would find you.”

  “Death…?” Gian looked up in shock, “You’re dead?”

  Stryga stared at him, her gaze steady.

  “Wait…” He stepped back, “Am I… dead?”

  She nodded gently.

  “H-How?” Gian stumbled back. He tried recalling his last memory and then suddenly it flooded back to him. His battle with the dragonbane. Elise on the ground, terror in her eyes as the beast opened its maw wide to swallow her whole.

  Gian ran his hand through his dark hair. “Elise, she— I failed her.”

  “—No,” Stryga shook her head. “You saved her.” 

  “I was supposed to protect her.”

  “You did. To the very end.” She placed her hands on his shoulders, “I’m so proud of you, Gigi, you did what I could not, you held up House Veres and House Gale for all these years.”

  “...I’m tired,” he sighed. “I don’t… I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

  “You don’t have to, you’ve done enough, you can rest now.”

  Gian closed his eyes and leaned on his sister. A guttural roar echoed faintly in the distance amidst shouts and cries of familiar voices.

  “What is that?” he asked.

  “They are the voices of our family, fighting the beast that invaded Holo’s Shade.”

  “They’re still fighting it?” he said in a horrid realization. “They can’t defeat that monster.”

  “They aren’t trying to. They are the Shields of Veres, they are only trying to buy time for Elise to escape.”

  “But— they’ll die.”

  “Yes, they are not strong enough to stop the dragonbane,” she said calmly. “Such is the fate of the sons and daughters of House Gale.”

  “Is there nothing we can do? I can do?” he asked anxiously.

  “Such time has passed. Besides, Gales do not save one another, they are the Shield,” she said as if it was the most obvious concept.

  He bowed his head, “Right…”

  Stryga knelt down on one knee. “It is as you said, the Gales cannot defeat that monster,” she lifted his chin, “But a Veres just might.”

  Gian frowned in confusion.

  “As the Gales protect the Veres as Shields, the Veres protect their two Houses as Swords. That is the way it has been for the last 1,000 years, since the age of our founders.”

  Gian pulled back and looked away, “That age is over. It ended the day you left. Ever since then the bloodline of Veres grew weak.” He curled his fists. “You abandoned us. I tried to hold on as long as I could, but it wasn’t enough.”

  She cocked her head to the side, “What are you saying?”

  He glared at her, angry tears burning down his cheeks. “I’m saying there are no Veres left who can fight! And soon the strength of House Gale will fall as well!” 

  “Is that what you believe? That the strength of Veres has fallen?”

  “Why didn’t you come back?” he mumbled. “Why did you leave me?”

  “I beg to differ.”

  “What?” he blinked.

  “You believe the strength of Veres has fallen. I beg to differ.” She poked his chest with her finger, “I see our greatest strength right here.”

  “Stop fooling around,” he scowled.

  “I’m not. Yes, the blood of your father runs through you, as strong as any Gale your House has ever seen. But the blood of our mother runs through your veins as well. You may have denied your birthright your whole life, but you are not only a Gale.”

  Gian shook his head bitterly, “I never wanted to be your heir. I never wanted that legacy. All I ever wanted was for you to come back.”

  “…I know,” she whispered shamefully. “There are not enough words in all the realms to express how sorry I am. And even if there were, it still wouldn’t make up for even an ounce of the pain I put you through. I am so sorry, my little brother.”

  “...It’s okay,” he sniffed. “I’m—I’m just tired.”

  “I know…” Stryga stood to her feet and offered the small boy her hand. “You’ve done enough. You can rest now.”

  The dragonbane’s roar echoed in the distance once more. Gian glanced around but he saw nothing, save the green bushes and verdant flowers of the gardens.

  “Gian, you say there is no strength left in House Veres, but the choice is yours. Veres. Gale. Or both. You are who you choose to be. And whatever choice you make, I will always be proud of you.”

  Dark shadows rose out from the ground and began to swallow the gardens all around them, slowly encroaching towards the yew tree.

  “It’s time,” Stryga noted and offered her hand once more.

  Gian nodded slowly and wrapped his small fingers around her long pale blue fingers. “Okay.”

  Stryga gave a slight nod and pulled him closer.

  “Hold the line! Just a little longer! For House Veres! For Gian!” His niece's shout resounded behind him. 

  “For Gian!” several other familiar voices pitched in.

  Gian turned around, but there was nothing there except pitch darkness. Still, he found himself taking a step towards the voices of his family. His hand slipped away from his sister’s grip. He stopped and turned back, “Stryga, I—”

  He glanced down at himself and realized he was an adult once more.

  Stryga was smiling warmly at him, her figure fading into the darkness. “I love you, always.”

  “Goodbye, sister,” Gian smiled tearfully. “I’ll be back, I promise.” He turned back to the voices and walked straight into the darkness.

 

~~~

 

  The ground shook as the dragonbane slammed her tail into the nearby barracks, sending showers of rocks and debris all over the gate courtyard. Dozens of soldiers were flattened in an instant, others weren’t so lucky; their limbs and torsos were crushed, leaving their last moments in agony.

  Screams rang through the air as Gale danced through the falling debris, Primoria and her own longsword flashed with sparks as she blocked the stones that came too close. Her cousins encircled the dragonbane, trying their best to draw its attention from the rest of the soldiers.

  Gale dashed close to the beast and lunged for a strike, swords held high above her shoulders. Despite her deep wounds, Nethlas swiveled around in a flash and roared, and a cold wave of void mana blasted Gale away. She crashed into the cobblestone in a haphazard role, her elbow smacking into the stone.

  Gale grimaced and clenched her teeth to stop herself from crying out in pain. She glanced around, searching for her swords. Primoria lay a few paces away, the golden blade still slick with black ichor from her uncle’s attacks.

  Tears burned at the edge of Gale’s vision. She bit her trembling lip and forced the pain down. “For Gian,” she whispered and staggered to her feet. A sharp pain shot up her side. Several broken ribs no doubt. There was no time to rest.

  Gale stumbled her way to the sword, holding her side with a grimace.

  “May I?” A blood-covered figure stepped in her way, leaned down, and picked up Primoria.

  Gale gasped a hollow sound. “Uncle…?” she whispered in a hoarse voice.

  Gian grinned tiredly. “The day will come when our House’s ancestral sword will be yours, but for now, I’ll hold onto Primoria just a little longer.” 

  She laughed with a tearful smile, “You’re alive! H-How…?” She glanced at his missing limb and cried out, “You’re arm!”

  “Don’t worry, that beast got my left arm,” he winked. 

  “But—!”

  “...I still have enough strength left in me,” Gian whispered and turned to the dragonbane fighting in the near distance. He walked slowly towards the monster, Primoria’s edge dragging across the cobblestone.

  Nethlas noticed his approach and scrunched her eyes in a frown and growled. The other Gale swordmasters saw Gian and froze in shock and disbelief. They stepped back as he approached.

  Nethlas dug her claws into the ground and roared, the air itself vibrating with a biting cold edge.

  Gian did not falter and walked on. “I am the Shield of Veres,” he spoke calmly. “I am the Sword of our Blood and the bane of our enemies. Be it monster or man— this shall be your end.”

 

 

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