Hey friends! So after some consulting with friends and family, I’ve decided to continue putting parts out as a ‘first draft’, so any feedback and critique storywise is greatly appreciated! I’ll continue to upload the audio versions when I have time to record, but otherwise I’ll continue to post updates when I feel they are ready. Now without further ado, here is Chapter 6!
“So you’re the knight they call ‘Quicksilver’, huh?” The hulking giant asked, standing on the other side of Gavin and Isabelle’s cage. She was fast asleep, leaving Gavin and the other man alone.
“I’m surprised you’ve heard of me. You’re obviously not from around here.” The giant was propped up against a wall, dried blood staining his face and bare chest. His interviewer stood nearly seven feet tall, his coffee-color skin and thick, black beard a peculiarity among the Sevestian people. He laughed heartily, crossing his bulky arms.
“What gave it away? My purple vest?” He shook his head as he chuckled, then leaning against the bars. “Look, I’m not here to interrogate you or anything.” The stranger closed his eyes, his smile widening.
“Then you must be here for the pleasant conversation? I’m flattered.” Gavin winced as he shifted his weight, his lower ribs still broken from the battle days before.
“Not exactly. I was more so hoping that we could maybe… help eachother out?” The giant’s eyes narrowed, Gavin raising an eyebrow.
“You have my attention, Kadrian” The giant’s eyes widened for a split second, checking the dungeon’s halls for any unwanted visitors.
“Careful who you say that around, Quicksilver. These brigands are brighter than they look. For now, how about you call me ‘Bull’?” His nostrils flared as he spoke, his golden septum ring visible as he turned his head, accompanied by a toothy grin. Then, the scene fading to white.
I almost fell out of my cot; the second my eyes opened my stomach climbed into my throat. Ash leapt from my chest as I squirmed, scurrying into a secluded corner of the small, canvas tent. His scales were glowing again, but this time with more of a blue tinge. I rubbed my eyes vigorously, convinced that I was hallucinating. As I tried to gather my bearings, I sat back down on the cot, cradling my head in my hands.
“What the hell is going on?” I muttered aloud. The dream had been so vivid, like I was standing across the room, watching. Gavin’s beaten face was burnt into my memory, Isabelle lying limp on that cold, stone floor. My still-churning stomach demanded my attention, and I decided it would likely be best to get some fresh air.
The dark sky was painted with glowing stars, dancing happily in the moon’s shine. The mountain air was much more fresh then the looming smog that encased Traug; it was something you didn’t realize you missed until it was gone, plus it didn’t carry the lingering scent of manure which was nice. I was surprised by how quiet it was, lacking the idle noise of the city. Silence reminded me of home, bringing on a flurry of mixed emotions.
Ash came running up behind me, leaping onto my shirt and climbing on top of my head. It had become his new perch over the past few days, and seldom did he leave it.
“You wanna come for a walk?” The small creature purred, which I assumed meant he agreed. I needed to clear my head, and gather my thoughts. Gavin’s bloodied wince kept flashing before me.
As we wandered between the numerous tents and evergreen trunks, we stumbled into Beatrice. She was sitting on a low hanging branch, sharpening a silver dagger. The level of her focus was intense, as she carefully pulled the blade along the whetstone. It was strange to see her without Harold by her side, but I wasn’t about to complain. He still hadn’t come around to my idea, but I had a feeling it was more personal than that.
The last few days had been quite tense at the camp, the rangers preparing for the day of the meeting. I was assigned to assisting Harold with his preparation, my only useful skills ating as Gavin’s squire. It was literal hell, every task I undertook ‘unsatisfactory’ for such a ‘renowned knight’.
“I thought you gave up your knighthood when you abandoned your kingdom?” On the third day I became fed up with his taunts and insults, and lost my tongue.
“Pardon me?” His eyes widened in a way that said ‘how dare you not worship me?’
“I said, you aren’t a knight anymore. You gave up that right when you joined Beatrice instead of bringing her back.” His face was visibly turning red, and I couldn’t help but slightly smirk. He came to stand directly in front of me, his nose nearly against mine.
“You may think you’re welcome here, but don’t kid yourself; the Princess only took you on because she pities you. Open your eyes, farm rat.” Harold snatched his sword from me, storming off. I stewed on his words for a moment, wondering if there was any truth to them. Did she really pity me?
I worried that his judgement was accurate, and that I would only be a burden to Beatrice, rather than help. But I couldn’t let his doubts cloud my thoughts. In only a few hours, we’d be setting out for the Forgotten Fortress, the abandoned outpost sitting at the base of the Frostpeaks, and likely the main encampment of the brigands.
Unfortunately, none of the scouts Beatrice had sent were able to make contact with the occupants of the fortress, making it impossible to set up a meeting between both factions. Beatrice had suggested to send me in on my own, and trying to propose a truce. I wasn’t keen on the idea, but we didn’t have any other options. If we tried to fight their force head on the rebellion would be eviscerated.
“Fyn?” Beatrice called out, noticing my blank stare. Ash cooed, bobbing his head jovially. He’d warmed up to Beatrice quite quickly, but still refused to let her touch him unless I held him.
“‘Evening!” I called up, half waving.
“What are you still doing awake?” She called back. “You should get some rest while you can!”
She replaced the dagger in its sheath, leaping from the branch gracefully.
“I, uh, couldn’t sleep.” I fumbled over my words, flustered by her innate agility. Her grace and poise was inhuman, or maybe I was biased.
“You to, huh? I can’t really blame you.” She beckoned me to follow her as she picked up a nearby torch, starting down an overgrown trail deeper into the forest. She was difficult to keep up with, especially in the dead of night.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re trying to negotiate the most feared man in the Eldergrove into meeting you tomorrow. I’d be terrified.” She shrugged, stepping carefully as the path began to incline. “I don’t think he’s predisposed to ‘talking it out’.”
“Oh, right. I’d nearly forgotten.” I replied sarcastically.
“Aw, don’t be such a coward.” She laughed, throwing her hands in the air. “It’ll be fine! You’ve got that boyish charm on your side!” She stopped for a moment, looking over her shoulder. She brushed her hair over her ear carefully. “But honestly, don’t worry. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
I could feel my cheeks heating up, grinning sheepishly from ear to ear. “Of course! I’m not nervous! I was just thinking…”
“About?” She began walking again, but more quickly. I scrambled to come up with a rebuttal, my heart racing.
“Uhm, it’s nothing. Things in the past.”
“What kinds of things?” Why was she prying?
“What happens after?”
“After what?” She stopped as we arrived at a small cliff face, only five or six feet tall. Beatrice pulled herself over it quickly, displaying her impressive athleticism once more. I was much less graceful, I could swear Ash was laughing at me. “After we rescue Gavin?”
“No, I mean after that.” I panted as I finally rolled onto the ledge.
She looked confused by my question. “After it’s all over.” She smiled brightly, taking off down the path in a sprint. “Hey!” I called after her, following quickly. The evergreens began to thin into a clearing, until we finally reached the edge of the ridge. It overlooked hundreds of miles of lush forest, putting us even higher than some of the tallest trees. The view was like a perfect painting of the Eldergrove, the Frostpeaks still making the perfect background. But from here, on the horizon, you could see the stone towers peeking over the canopies from afar.
“That’s it. The Forgotten Fortress.” She pointed to the towers, her smile faint but determined.
“It’s beautiful…” My voice faded as I took in the scene for all it was worth. I never wanted to forget that immaculate sea of green, stretching up the mountain’s crest. I didn’t look over, but I could feel the warmth of Beatrice’s smile.
“I…” I looked over at the princess, looking down at her feet as she spoke. “I’d never left the castle before now.”
“My father… He changed after my mother died.” She looked over to the ridge, my eyes following suit.
“So you mean the Queen, she’s not your mother?”
“No, not by blood.” Beatrice trailed off, suddenly looking at me. “She’s really quite wonderful, though. Don’t get the wrong idea!” I couldn’t help but chuckle. She scowled, but continued the story, sitting down on the ledge, letting her feet hang.
“After she died, he became distant. By the time he came back after the Kadrien War, he wasn’t the same man. That would have been around the time my grandfather died, and Uncle Gavin…” She tried to speak, but she couldn’t.
“It’s alright. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.” I was genuinely curious, but I had to trust she’d open up more in time.
“I’m sorry. It’s just…” She looked up at me again, her eyes the size of the moon. A single tear ran down her cheek, and all I wanted to do was hold her. My heart hurt for her, but deep down I knew there was nothing I could say that would change it.
A deafening thunder erupted from behind us, the echo of an exploding powderkeg. Beatrice was on her feet instantly, as the first was followed by an entire chorus of the familiar rumbling. We could see the flames dancing below, pained cries calling for help. The princess set off in a sprint, dropping the torch in the clearing. I followed closely, dread pooling in my stomach.
As we rounded the final corner, many of the tents were ablaze, countless refugees fleeing into the bush as they burned. Harold was locked in combat with Graves, the others in his party having already fled. The smell of burning flesh was overwhelming, countless bodies scattered throughout the camp’s walkways, like they’d been dragged out and set ablaze intentionally. Many of Beatrice’s rangers were injured or worse, trying their best to drag the seared victims from their tents before fainting.
I noticed the burns covering the left side of Harolds face as we came nearer, both men’s sword caught in a bind. Watching the battle was astounding, both trained so thoroughly in their craft they were on par with performers. Harold would roll to the side as Grave’s came in with an overhead swing, parrying a horizontal blow at the very last second before his broadsword cleaved into his neck. Then Harold would duck, cleaving at his feet to no avail. With another horizontal swing, the knights were caught in a bind once more.
“I’m glad to see my apprentice hasn’t digressed over the years. You’re a worthy foe!” Graves laughed, pressing harder into his foe’s blade.
“I wish I could say the same, but you’ve become sloppy, old man!” Harold gritted his teeth as he countered, knocking Graves off balance. The older knight rolled backwards, underneath Harold’s rage-filled swing. He sprang to his feet, noticing Beatrice and I approaching.
“This isn’t over, Harold.” The knight tried to chase him as he fled, but Graves threw his sword at him. It caught Harold by surprise, allowing him just enough time to outrun him. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t outrun Beatrice’s arrows. It wasn’t loud, but to us the sound of it piercing Grave’s abdomen was deafening. The bandit didn’t stumble, continuing his sprint as he cried out in pain. He was already deep in the bush as we caught up to Harold, the shock setting in as the heat of battle died down.
“That bastard….” Harold was shaking violently as he clenched his greatsword with an iron grip. “How did he know… How did he find us…” Beatrice put her hand on his shoulder, but he pushed it away. “How did they know, Bea?” He looked back, his eyes welling with tears. She was holding back her emotions as well.
“I…I don’t know…”
“We were careful, weren’t we?” He couldn’t curb his shaking any longer, his sword falling to the ground. “We were careful, weren’t we?!” Harold shouted, the sobs finally coming out.
“We… We need to aid the injured. Come on-” Beatrice staggered backwards, running off. She was fighting back her own grief, trying to be a strong leader. Harold’s attention turned to me, looking into my eyes with immense hatred. His appearance was unsettling, and I looked away.
“Wait…” His hysterics had stopped for a moment as he mulled over his thoughts. “It was you. They found us because of you.” My eyes widened for a moment, looking around for Beatrice.
“Don’t play coy with me. This is all your fault, farm rat!” Harold’s voice rose, and I started to back away. “If you hadn’t been in that camp…” I knew the man wasn’t making rational sense, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by the immense bloodshed that night.
“Harold, stop it.” My voice wavered like a branch in the wind.
“No, no, no. All these people died because we saved you! If we’d just left you there to rot…” The man was going into a dangerous place, but then suddenly stopped. He looked up from his hands, wide-eyed.
“You, you should leave. You killed all these people. You killed our chance at everything. We’ll all die now because of you!” Harold went on with his ramblings, pushing me closer and closer to the edge of the camp. The man towered over me, and I was still only a teenager. I was frightened, and didn’t feel like arguing with a grief stricken man.
“Leave now, before Beatrice comes back! This is all your fault, you farm rat!” His ramblings became more violent, and I was unable to speak. He drew a dagger from his waist, holding it to my throat as he backed me against a tree. I could feel Ash’s feet heating up, nearly burning my scalp.
“Or maybe, I’ll just kill you now. Be done with it!” I couldn’t speak, let alone move. The steel was cold against my skin, stinging as he slightly traced a line across my throat. As he grinned, something above caught his attention, then something releasing a blinding flash. Harold curled into a ball on the ground, groaning as he rubbed his eyes. The heat in Ash’s feet had dispersed, and my instincts finally kicked in. I took off into the forest, refusing to look back.
A flurry of negative emotion was dancing in my chest. Fear, rage, angst, sadness. His words stung worse than any cut, the malice in his tone inescapable as he held that dagger to my throat. I could still hear Harold yelling as I fled, slandering me relentlessly. I know now that his words were fabricated lies, designed to rattle my resolution. But in that moment, dealing with the raw emotions of a teenager, I couldn’t handle it. I fled like a coward, and curse myself for it to this day. Even though it was unavoidable, it was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.